From borrowing ‘dad’s’ fishing gear and family swags, an outdoor program to support disengaged boys inspired by three Albury school teachers, has made tremendous inroads, giving hope and inspiration to young people.
One of the co-founders of the not-for-profit Boys to the Bush program, Richard Leahy says an idea between the three teachers (Adam Demamiel and Tim Sanson) started from humble beginnings 18 months ago.
“We’d been doing bits and pieces through our schools, but could see the greater need for camps, especially in our local community,” Richard said.
“We’ve been getting camps filled pretty easily. We’ve run 14 camps in the past 12 months, we’ve also got a Board now, and the impact we’re having on boys has really blown us away.”
Boys to the Bush is about getting disengaged boys in the great outdoors – fishing, yabbying, canoeing, sheep work, mechanics while exploring and making genuine connections.
“The program is based on our fathers and the positive role models we had growing up. It’s what the three of us did, and what I do now with my young bloke of a weekend,” Richard said.
“We know how lucky we were and now we’re trying to replicate that for some young blokes who probably don’t have positive role models in their lives.”
Richard says it’s rewarding to see the connections that happen when boys are away from technology and surrounding themselves with positive influences.
“What we do is real, it’s not this fictitious sort of stuff on video games, phones and electronics, it’s making real connections and it’s so interesting to see the boys and how they change when you take those things away.
“In terms of the boys and the impact we see with them, it floors us. We get a bit emotional. You think you’ve seen or heard it all, but you haven’t. Some of the boys and the background they’ve come from.”
Boys participating in the camps not only come from the Albury Wodonga region, but also Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Parks, Forbes and Wagga Wagga. Often they’re referred by welfare organisations, in other instances it’s through word of mouth.
Through support of community minded organisations like the SS&A Club, which funded the costs of a camp, and Albury Wodonga Connected Communities, which allocated a grant for the purchase of a trailer, Boys to the Bush continues to expand.
“The local support blows you away,” Richard said.
“You live in a community and don’t realise how generous it is, particularly the SS&A where we had a camp fully funded and I’ve seen a couple of young local kids who came on that camp, who haven’t had many positive experiences in their lives – they can’t wait to come back.”
The program is also offering leadership opportunities for the boys to aspire to.
“We’ve had some boys on several camps now and we’d like to get some of these boys when they’re 16 or 17 to become leaders in our camp, we’d love that as a pathway,” Richard said.
“When you mention it to some of the boys, their eyes light up – for them to even been shown that they have that capacity.”
While Boys to the Bush is run by the teachers on weekends and during holidays, it’s a program they’d like to see expand.
“It’s changing lives, it’s as simple as that. We’re getting to them at a critical age and we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done and we just want to do it more.”
For more on Bush to the Bush: https://boystothebush.org.au/