Roland Fraval

RiverTracks is a new Northern Rivers venture, inspired by the very successful BackTrack program that Bernie Shakeshaft created in Armidale, New South Wales to keep young boys ‘alive, out of jail and get them back on track’.

Like BackTrack, RiverTracks will take an innovative approach to working with young people, 13-16 years giving them the skills and support so they can reach their full potential and have a positive impact in the communities they live in.

Despite limited government funding (5%), BackTrack is recognised across Australia and has an 87 per cent success rate of participants gaining full-time employment, training or education. The Tweed Valley community members who have established RiverTracks want to emulate the same community sponsored model to support their new program for young men.

RiverTracks will begin its local offering with a program that will run 1-2 days per week targeting disengaged young men in the Murwillumbah area. the program will connect them to a safe, supportive and inclusive community of mentors and peers who offer opportunities, including animal therapy, practical education and work skills development. The program will partner with training providers and focus on collaborative relationship building with participants to co-create the program.

In this interview I speak with a member of the RiverTracks team Roland Fraval, who talks about how:

  • the idea for the local project came about after local youth worker and co-founder, Ahri Tallon found out about the BackTrack program from a young fellow in living in residential care who said it was the best thing he’d ever done
  • the program is an early intervention program targeting young people that have disengaged from school and who are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system
  • one in four young people are dealing with a mental health issue and one in five are disengaged from school in some way and 28,000 are homeless or sleeping rough
  • successful the BackTrack venture has been, reducing severe psychological distress by half in young participants, reducing suicide ideation by 40%, resulting in a 70% drop in school suspensions and increasing school attendances by 66% and lowering drug use
  • beneficial animal training and therapy has been in the BackTrack program with dogs and how the local arm will use equine therapy to create similar outcomes
  • they want to ground the project within the local community and have already attracted support and interest from many local community members and some high-profile local businesses, including the Scouts, the Rural Fire Service, the Surf Lifesaving club, as well as the Murwillumbah bike shop
  • the program aims to be a social enterprise that creates real-world opportunities for young people to do things that interest them and make money in the process
  • the program will start with young men 13-16 and expand out to other age groups and girls once it gets more established
  • you can contribute to their fundraiser or through donating your time to skills like grant writing, cooking, mentoring etc.

In this current climate of uncertainty around housing, education and climate change, every community really needs to support its youth, many of whom don’t feel they have a place in the mainstream education system.  A program like RiverTracks offers a great alternative for those that feel marginalised or disenfranchised.  Our young people are the future and have a valid contribution to make to our community. With our help and support they can embrace a brighter future.  If you live locally, why not get on board and offer your financial support or services. If you don’t, you might want to start a similar group in your local area and pay forward the same support previous generations have benefitted from.

Visit RiverTracks website for more information.

To contribute financially or in kind to their fundraiser to get RiverTracks started click link here

Be inspired by the success of the BackTrack project through this inspiring documentary about the program



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