SIX boys from Hawkesbury's youth-at-risk program, RuffTrack, headed to Armidale on the weekend to spend time with other youths participating in similar programs around NSW.
RuffTrack recently completed a 12-week pilot program instigated by Hawkesbury police and lead by 'Farmer Dave' Graham at his farm in Riverstone.
During the program, each youth, aged 13 to 16, learnt dog training and sheep herding skills, as well as life lessons including manners and respect.
The teenagers were known to Hawkesbury Police Area Command and referred to the program by youth liaison officers.
Farmer Dave said the local boys teamed-up with youths from programs in Clarence Valley, Broken Hill, Dubbo and Armidale to "give back to the community via a big activation in the middle of town".
Each of the programs involved in the activation were based on BackTrack's style of program, which was created by Armidale's Bernie Shakeshaft, who recently won 2020 NSW Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards for the work he does helping local kids who are doing it tough.
"Boys will share knowledge, get to know each other, and know they're not alone in this. As a whole team across NSW we will be investing in the future and empowering the participants across all their communities, including the Hawkesbury," Farmer Dave said before the event.
The Hawkesbury participants performed with their dogs a K9 Ninja Challenge, which Farmer Dave described as "like Ninja Warrior for dogs".
"The boys have been doing so well. They've been doing shows here at Riverstone, they're extra-mad-keen, to the point where they've done four extra days outside of the program to do extra training because they really want to do the best they can up there," he said.
"Since the program began, every one of the participants' parents has called me and said they have a new son in their house who is respectful, who communicates, who has started to care about what they're going through. In just three months, it seems like they've totally turned their lives around."
He said the program has a "pretty bright future", with members of the Department of Education contacting him to see how they can get on board with the program.
"We're almost full for the 12, 13, 14 and 15-year-olds we're taking in 2020. The board is fully organised, and we're finishing the last of our charity status so we can be fully activated in 2020," Farmer Dave said.
During the last week of tough weather and bushfires, Farmer Dave and the boys practiced how they could help community members in fire areas in the future.
"RuffTrack is a pretty cool program in the way that it can give back to the community. We've got the van, the trucks and the trailers, and the boys helped some old people get to more built up areas during the fires - they did six loads of people and animals and were able to bring their times down to under 10 minutes," Farmer Dave said.