A YOUTH charity inspired by Bernie Shakeshaft's BackTrack program for youth at risk is operating a 12-week pilot program in the Hawkesbury.
Assisted by youth workers from BackTrack at Armidale and instigated by Hawkesbury police, Riverstone's RuffTrack is run by 'Farmer Dave' Graham, a professional dog trainer.
Each youth is teamed with two dogs throughout the program - one young pup, and one adolescent dog - and they work together to accomplish daily goals of manners, communication, overcoming challenges, sheep herding, and fun dog sports including K9 Super Wall and DockDogs.
The RuffTrack crew then takes this knowledge on the road with community outreach programs and performances in schools across Australia, as well as involvement in dog competitions.
Farmer Dave said the group of boys in the pilot program were already getting a lot out of it at only two weeks in, but he needed more support from the community to keep it going indefinitely.
"We need equipment and the use of a bus Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons to help us get the group around," he said.
They also need local businesses, community groups and individuals who can help them out with gear, and writing submissions for funding.
The youths, aged 13 to 16, are individuals known to Hawkesbury Police Area Command and referred to the program by youth liaison officers.
Leading Senior Constable Jon Cole said it was incredible to watch the kids - who he had previously known to be on the streets and causing mischief in the community - settling in to the program, focussing, and enjoying it.
"We've got six kids here are turning up every day and they are enjoying being here and they want to come back," he said.
"Having known these kids, that's a big thing for me to see."
He said local police hoped the PCYC would eventually be able to take over management of the program.
"Hopefully we can get some sponsorship until such a time as the police will take over - that's the aim. We're breaking down barriers at the moment," he said.
Currently, the pilot program participants are being driven from their homes or school to Farmer Dave's property and back again three days a week by the Hawkesbury Community Outreach Services (HCOS) bus, and meals are being provided by Hawkesbury Helping Hands.
Participant Bryson, 14 years old, said he had been given responsibility for two dogs - a pup named Mixie and an adult dog named Blue - and he was getting a lot out of it.
"I decided to try it [the program] out and I love it. I like that we can teach the dogs and learn more about the animals," he said.
"It's better than sitting in the classroom all the time. We put up the whole back fence last week. It was the first time I ever did it and I liked it. I also like getting to know the other kids."
During their visits to the farm, participants join up with their puppies for groundwork training and their young dogs for farm work training, they have skills training in welding and mechanics (Buttsworth Industrial Supplies from South Windsor has donated the steel) and education through Richmond TAFE, and they also learn life skills.
Various incursions are planned for the duration of the program including a connection to country class with Aboriginal youth workers at McMahons Park in Kurrajong.
"It's a big community collaboration," said Farmer Dave, adding that he had already had calls from numerous other parents asking if they could get their kids involved.
Bernie Shakeshaft, founder and CEO of BackTrack - the program RuffTrack is modelled on - told the Gazette he hopes the Hawkesbury community supports RuffTrack to keep it going at Riverstone, so they can continue their goal of helping as many young people having a hard time as possible.
"BackTrack is going so well here in Armidale, that we've been working for a couple of years on replication and scale, and we have found it works pretty effectively in other towns too," Mr Shakeshaft said.
"We help get them started, we've got a couple of our youth workers down there and someone who knows the kids. The police have been really supportive down there. We're lucky to have the partnership with Farmer Dave who's got the dogs and the facilities.
"We're helping to run the 12-week pilot program while we get the local business support to keep it going."
To donate supplies, funds, services or support to the Riverstone RuffTrack program, visit www.rufftrack.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.