Graduates of the renowned BackTrack program are 'filling the gaps' in the clean-up process following the catastrophic hail and tornado that hit Armidale on Thursday night.
"We're concentrating on those little gaps where it doesn't quite fit under SES or the Rural Fire Brigade or council, or whoever else is out there on the ground helping out," said Bernie Shakeshaft - the founder and CEO of BackTrack Youth Works.
Mr Shakeshaft has spent the past three decades working and living out his passion...keeping kids alive, out of jail, and chasing their hopes and dreams.
This week, he is working with the young men and women from his BT Works program, supporting council and emergency services, and helping those in the community who have fallen through the cracks in the clean-up effort.
"We helped one old lady who had a roof land on her house from two streets back, and once the builders came in, they talked about demolition," Mr Shakeshaft said.
"All her stuff was still inside, and she had no one to help. We were next door cutting up fallen trees, and the neighbor on the other side came to us to explain the situation.
"Once we spoke to the lady directly, we went into action. We got someone to donate a shipping container then got everyone in to help empty her house.
"That was a whole BackTrack collective effort - we wrapped a thousand pieces of china and packed it into boxes - her late husband was an avid clock collector, and I don't know how many vintage clocks she had, but it seemed like hundreds.
"We got about a third of it done, and we are hoping we are allowed to go back in to finish."
About 30 BackTrack team members worked for anything up to 60 hours during the initial three-day clean-up phase, working on average for about 10 hours each day.
Armidale Regional Council employed the group to help with traffic control, but all other work they do is on a volunteer basis and is self-funded.
"We've been on traffic control all weekend with the council, and chainsawing trees and on farms getting boundary fences back up," Mr Shakeshaft said.
"Wherever there is a gap, we've been diving in and helping out."
Armidale Regional Council chief officer for assets and services Alex Manners said the traffic management work BackTrack did helped prioritise the safety of the inter-agency response to the storm damage.
"Council would like to thank BackTrack for the incredible job they did at such short notice," he said.
Mr Shakeshaft said his team had an extensive history of working on 'this sort of stuff'.
"We've been on bushfire recovery fencing for the last 20 months at least, and we pulled all those crews back in to help with this," he said.
Chris McCormack and Kanaya Moran have both been part of the BackTrack program for about six years, and for the last couple of those, they have been working with BTWorks.
They have helped clean up and fix hundreds of kilometres of fencing following the horrific 'Black Summer' bushfires but say they have never seen anything like this.
"I was shocked, really," Kanaya said.
"It has been sad seeing how many people have lost their homes - particularly the old people. However, it did touch my heart a bit the way everyone pulled together."
Chris lives in Chestnut Avenue, one of the worst hit areas, but he said his house was okay.
"I don't know how we dodged it - it was an absolute shock when I walked outside, then I saw the big tree that had come down in my yard - but luckily I had moved my car because it is uninsured," he said.
"I think it's astonishing what has happened. How we have dealt with it is really good because we rose up as a community and all helped each other."
There are several BackTrack programs: AgLads, PawsUp, IronMan Welders, The Classroom, Warrah, Running Strong, and BT Works, an employment-focused social enterprise established in 2017.
The BackTrack Youth works program enables young people who have lost their way to reconnect with education and training, become work-ready, and secure meaningful employment.
BT Works' youth are trained in construction site safety, traffic management, and chainsaw operation when they start the program.
"The first question when we arrived to help was 'are they qualified?'," Mr Shakeshaft said.
"We wouldn't have been able to get up there with all those young people if they didn't have those qualifications. It would have been a no-go for us if they didn't have that."
Mr Shakeshaft said his office has already received letters from the community thanking BackTrack for the help.
"The amount of positive feedback has just been enormous," he said.
"This is about our kids giving back to our community. The kids with the least are certainly out there doing the most."
Mr Shakeshaft said he knows the initial concentration needs to be on the town damage, but his concern was also for the farmers that had been affected.
"There is some extensive fencing damage that has been done, and a lot of it is not on the highway or town, so you don't see it," he said.
"There is one stretch of Booralong Road which must be a couple of kilometres long, and I don't know how many hundreds of trees are down, but it is the most significant I've seen.
"There would be a whole chain of properties through there, we've worked on four or five of them, and we have more to do this week. Trees have come down on houses, and thank god no one was home at the time."
Mr Shakeshaft expects kids from some of the other BackTrack programs may start to help clean up as well once the heavy work is done.
"We will be at it in some capacity for the next few weeks," he said.
"There's enough to do, don't you worry."
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