Armidale’s BackTrack youth organisation was named the Youth Service of the Year at the NSW Youth Work Awards in Sydney last night.
Founder Bernie Shakeshaft received the prestigious award from NSW Minister for Disability, Ageing and Multiculturalism John Agaka at a ceremony at the SMC Conference Centre.
The Awards are organised by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services Youth Action group, the State’s peak body for young people and youth services which represents 1.25 million young people and the services that support them.
Backtrack was one of nine finalists including youth organisations from Sydney and across NSW.
“It is a great honour for us to receive this award particularly in such a competitive field,” Mr Shakeshaft said.
“BackTrack’s vision for the last seven years has been to help young people having a hard time turn their lives around, reconnect with their education and training and their community and to find work.
“These young people have the same aspirations as everyone else. They want to do well in life and we concentrate on helping them achieve that as best we can.”
BackTrack has achieved a 87 per cent success rate in training young people to find jobs and research by four Australian universities has shown that the youth crime rate in Armidale Dumaresq has reduced by 55 per cent since the program started.
The young people participate in Iron Man Welders, Paws Up dog training and jumping, AgLads work on farms and the classroom they call The Paddock where they catch up on numeracy and literacy skills.
Mr Shakeshaft said the Award should be shared with the local community and its leaders who have given such strong support to BackTrack over the last seven years.
“We could not have achieved what we have without the support of our local politicians, council, Jobs Australia Enterprises (JAE) , service clubs, the University, local businesses and members of the community,” he said.
Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall congratulated BackTrack on winning the award.
“It’s well deserved and recognises the outstanding achievements of the organisation and its work with so many troubled young people to help them find their way back to achieve their potential,” he said.
JAE CEO Nigel Barlow said his organisation was proud of BackTrack’s achievements.
“This award recognises the great results that have been achieved and we are delighted to have played a part in that,” he said.

Caption The BackTrack team – (back) Paul Dawson, Michelle Rottcher, Nathan Bliss, Matt Pilkington, Ryan Lush, Bernie Shakeshaft, Penny Lamaro, Sarah Mills. (front) Mikey Cutmore, Damon Reynolds, Brett Orcher-Penfold, Ben Miller, Jordan Kelly-Kilpatrick.