28 October 2022

Bush-focused mentoring program working wonders with disengaged youth

| Edwina Mason
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Men welding

Mentoring and upskilling disengaged young men throughout metropolitan and regional NSW and Victoria is the goal of the Boys to the Bush program, founded by three former southern NSW teachers. Photo: Boys to the Bush.

What began as a program offering disengaged and at-risk city boys the opportunity to spend time in the country getting back to basics has gained so much momentum throughout southern NSW it’s now set up camp in Young.

If you haven’t heard of Boys to the Bush – look alive – because this mentoring program is changing and saving young lives, and making good blokes of young men.

Three former teachers from southern NSW are behind the not-for-profit charity, which launched in Albury in 2018 and has spread to regional centres such as Wagga, Forbes, Parkes, Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo.

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Leeton-born Adam DeMamiel, Richard Leahy from Howlong and Tim Sanson, who was born and raised in Lake Cargelligo, had seen the consequences of the lives of withdrawn and unconnected young people.


Former NSW police detective Peter Butcher has been appointed local coordinator at Young’s new Boys to the Bush hub. Photo: Boys to the Bush.

Taking the best of their own bush beginnings, they set about formulating a practical response offering, initially, city lads the opportunity to head out to the country on camping trips during the school holidays.

There they would be encouraged to ditch digital devices, experience life on the farm, enjoy new freedoms and gain experiences and new skills under the guiding hand of positive role models.

Since then, and despite COVID, well over 1000 boys have accessed the program, which enjoys a 70 per cent return rate, with some of the graduates now in full-time mentoring roles.

Now in Young the former Salvation Army Clothing Store in Milvale Road has been transformed into an office space cum workshop where young boys can take part in skills development, and group and one-on-one mentoring.

Leading the team in Young is former NSW police detective Peter Butcher, who has made the Hilltops town his home.

Peter is working alongside long-time local Dean Bedford to strengthen and develop the program in the district, administer its various mentoring programs and develop support exemplars for any disengaged, disadvantaged and/or at-risk youngsters.

In all instances the program works with schools, case workers and families to help keep youngsters on the straight and narrow.

“This could be anyone from eight to 22 years old,” Peter said. “That doesn’t preclude others from being involved but that’s what it’s been so far.”

These are young people who are seen to be peeling away or becoming disenfranchised from conventional pathways, evident through poor school attendance, poor behaviour, limited social skills, lack of engagement or unfortunate life experiences.

“It’s all about engagement, linking into the community and building resilience,” Peter said.

Farmers and industry leaders are being encouraged to become involved in helping young people get back on the straight and narrow. Photo: Boys to the Bush.

“Young adults who might be disengaged at school, we can help them find employment, help them with training and prepare them for the workforce. And for younger boys we teach things like respect for women, basic life skills or give them the opportunity to try things they’re normally not exposed to.”

With Young as the base, the program reaches out to nearby towns such as Cowra, Boorowa, Cootamundra, Harden-Murrumburrah and Grenfell.

“Right now we’re working with Grenfell Public School on a transition to high school where students are involved with industry and farm visits, where they get to see and try basic farm work and speak to farmers,” Peter explained. “And we have worked with Riverina Stock Feeds who will take the students on a tour of the business and have managers talk about what they’re looking for in workers and what being a good man, a good person or a good employee is all about.

“All of which simply means you turn up to work on time, work hard and get rewarded for that.” To this end, Boys to the Bush is happy to hear from any business or agricultural enterprise willing to work with the group.

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“Even if someone is happy to allow the kids to camp out on or visit their farm,” Peter said, “it’s about giving them the freedom and opportunities to see and try enjoyable activities that really work to provide a basic foundation for their growth.”

In the past, Boys to the Bush participants have had a go at welding, and farm jobs that have extended from mustering and feeding livestock to welding and mechanics. They have links to Men’s Sheds in many towns, which gives them exposure to woodworking skills in an environment that’s geared towards support and socialisation.

Or there are the weekend and school holiday camps based on farms near Howlong, Forbes and Lake Cargelligo, where the boys have the choice of sleeping in a tent, shed or (weather permitting) under the stars and get the opportunity to partake in a range of tasks or activities unique to living in the country.

That may include bush cooking, fishing, yabbying, fencing, lamb marking, wood cutting, bushwalking and basic survival skills with resilience, communication and team-building skills woven into the mix.

Thanks to a recent $49,970 grant under the NSW Government’s COVID Regional Community Support program, for Boys to the Bush at Young there’s more support for the delivery of camps for disadvantaged young males and associated community engagement.

Peter would be keen to hear from anyone interested in assisting with the program.

For more information visit https://boystothebush.org.au/

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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