GOOD NEWS

Flat Track Moree keeping at-risk boys alive, out of jail and chasing their dreams

Thirteen-year-old Kenny (name changed to protect his identity) hasn't been to school in more than a year, but his future is looking brighter after spending the past few months learning some valuable life skills in the Flat Track shed.

Kenny is one of 25 at-risk teenage boys who have been a part of Moree's Flat Track program since it began at the start of this year.

Based on the BackTrack model, developed by Armidale's Bernie Shakeshaft, Flat Track is specifically adopted for Moree's youth and aims to get young people who have lost their way back on track through activity-based learning and participation in their community, with the goal to transition them back to school or employment.

Founded by Krist Grasnick and his father-in-law Geoff Dunlop, Flat Track's motto is to 'keep kids alive, out of jail and chasing their hopes and dreams'.

"I saw the BackTrack program on SBS and thought, 'there's a need for that in Moree'," Mr Grasnick, who had grown up on the land and has a variety of trade skills, said.

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So he quit his day job driving trucks to dedicate his time and tools, completely voluntary, to helping these boys full-time.

"I just want these boys to succeed in life," he said.

"If you get 10 boys and you can change just one boy's life, the job's done.

"We're not taking anything away from other organisations, we're just filling a gap.

"These are boys that are disengaged from school; some of these kids haven't been to school in 12 to 18 months. If they're not at school, they're up the street at all hours of the day and night causing trouble."

On average about three to five boys attend the Flat Track shed each day, sometimes as many as 10.

They are welcome to come and go as they please, but they must follow a list of agreements which the boys came up with themselves.

The Flat Track agreements that the boys came up with from the start.

The Flat Track agreements that the boys came up with from the start.

"We put the emphasis back onto the boys, always asking them 'what do you want to do'," Mr Grasnick said.

"There are no rules in the shed, but agreements that they made up. They abide by these. And if they say the C-word, they have to do 10 push-ups or five laps around the yard."

The boys have a say in what they do each day, but mostly it's practical, with the boys learning trade skills including welding, building, woodwork, metalwork, farming and more.

Since the program started in February, the boys have built dog kennels for the Flat Track puppies - Chase and Bullet - and have since been asked to build more for Juvenile Justice. They've cleaned up Cooee Park, fixed up a trailer, built fire pits, made candle holders and coffee tables for their families, mowed their families' lawns and more.

And while they're learning practical skills, they're also incidentally learning basic maths, science, and literacy.

Eventually, the boys will be able to receive an education and training, earning qualifications such as their white cards and certificates.

"They can come here and learn some real life skills, so when they go out into the community for a job they're pretty well set-up and have got an idea of what it's like being in a workplace," Mr Grasnick said.

"Yes it's small but it's big. The difference in the boys' manners and their outlook on life has already improved dramatically.

"When I open those gates of a morning and a boy's not 100 per cent, at the end of the day if he's learnt something and leaves with a smile, that's what I look for."

Kenny has been coming to Flat Track every day for the past four months, during which time he's learnt to weld and build and can now see a future in "building things".

"I love it," he said.

"It's like getting a normal job.

"You get out of trouble and there's a lot of things you can do here - fix mowers, make candle holders and fire pits and build dog kennels. My favourite thing I've made is my phone box."

Kenny said he's a '10' everyday, one being a bad day and 10 a great day - "We do circle work every morning and I ask them how they're feeling," Mr Grasnick explained.

"Most boys are a five, six or seven in the morning, but at the end of the day they're a nine or 10."

Since attending Flat Track, Kenny now sees the benefit of an education and plans to return to school.

"I want to go back to school," he said.

"If you live without going to school, you'll have a bad education, but if you go to school and get a good education, you don't have to worry then."

Jobs Australia has recently come on board to financially support the Flat Track program, having helped Bernie Shakeshaft develop the Back Track program in Armidale.

"We got to see how life-changing that program can be," Jobs Australia CEO Nigel Barlow said.

"We'd been talking about getting something like that in Moree for years, but it's got to be the right person. They've got to be a certain type of person that the boys just respect; Krist has that and Bernie has that.

"When Bernie first came to us, he had a shoe-box full of receipts and a heart full of passion and that's what we saw in Krist. He's bold and gutsy and you need to live and breathe it. "

Funding programs such as this one is "the heart" of Jobs Australia, with the not-for-profit organisation to provide the financial support, governance and insurance to Flat Track, leaving the running of the program to Mr Grasnick.

"We're paying rent for the building, Krist is on a small salary and we've purchased a vehicle for him," Mr Barlow said.

"As the program grows, we'll give him the support he needs to do that.

"We'll be there when there are meetings to be held, when it's good and when it's not good. We're the support."

Prior to Jobs Australia getting on board, Flat Track was solely funded by an initial $20,000 grant from Moree Plains Shire Council and $5000 from the Regional Australian Bank, as well as donations from local businesses.

Food is supplied for the boys every day, however they're expected to make their own lunches and clean up in the smoko room.

Rob Moore from South Moree Butchery donates sausages for them every Friday and donated meat for their open day last Thursday, July 23.

About 70 people attended the open day including the Flat Track board, BackTrack founder Bernie Shakeshaft, Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton, Moree Police officer-in-charge Martin Burke, local school principals and representatives from Jobs Australia, PCYC, Regional Australia Bank and other organisations.

"Well done to Krist Grasnick and to all the boys and girls at Flat Track - you are achieving great things every day," Mr Coulton said.

Moree Police and PCYC have been great supporters of the Flat Track program and occasionally drop in to see what the boys are up to, helping to build that rapport.

Flat Track welcomes any donations from local people and businesses, and is currently calling for old bicycles, as well as any building materials - "anything that we can put to use," Mr Grasnick said.

If anyone has a project that they would like the boys to do, or are interested in purchasing a fire pit, or helping out in any way, call Krist on 0419 973 618. All are welcome to pop in and check out the shed on the Des Young Drive, off Blueberry Road.