The bottom line in philanthropy is impact. How do you know that all the work, effort, fundraising and programs an organisation might produce have tangibly made a difference to the people or communities they intend to support?
The co-founder and CEO of Boys to the Bush (BttB), Adam DeMamiel, doesn’t seem to sweat much on this issue. Within three weeks of his organisation establishing itself in Bathurst, NSW, his local team leader saved a teenage boy’s life after receiving an out-of-hours phone call. That saved boy is now working for the Boys to the Bush organisation, training up as a mentor and potential social worker.
This story is one of many Adam can reel off at a moment’s notice. BttB’s work is deceptively simple but can be literally life and death. It’s leaning in to offer mentoring, guidance and genuine practical support to youths who otherwise have bleak prospects and nobody else in their corner. When you’re talking about families where children are caged, or daughters are prostituted out, or parents are in jail for murder, this is the deep end of life. “What’s scary is the normality with which these kids talk about these things,” Adam said. He and his team look such children in the eye and offer an alternative, a life away from such horrors.
Mostly, BttB conveners simply convince the kids that they care. That can make all the difference. “The missing link in these kids’ lives are people like us who can connect with them,” Adam said. “A lot simply don’t have people in their lives to connect with, or their adults are unable to support them because of issues they have going on.”
Established in 2017, BttB has a strong foothold in New South Wales and is now spreading across Victoria, with support from the Newsboys Foundation. Before this year, roughly 2500 youths had exposure to BttB’s work, but expansion has accelerated and this year, 5000 kids will have been touched in some way. Adam says that includes community days and other such events, and points to a more essential figure: more than 1000 youths in BttB’s intensive programs, including one-on-one mentoring, accommodation and other committed support.
The support of the Newsboys Foundation has been central to the not for profit enterprise’s success and expansion. “Newsboys supported us with some funding, but it’s more been the introductions to other philanthropic organisations or corporate leaders,” Adam said. “Newsboys has provided great credibility for us because it has been around for such a long time and is so respected. Knowing Newsboys is on our team carries some weight when we go to talk to people.”
One of those organisations was the Gruppetto Fund, looking to expand its philanthropic support at Newsboys’ direction (see separate story). Chair Mark Duncan said BttB appealed as a partner right away. “They (BttB) do a lot of work with kids from the juvenile justice system and of the kids they work with, the reoffending rate is less than one per cent. For us, that’s just a remarkable stat and a remarkable bit of evidence that what they are doing is fantastic. It’s startling.
“Even though it’s a new relationship with Boys to the Bush, the money we provided has funded a good part of their start-up in Wangaratta so there is a direct line to where our money is being used, which we like to be able to see and celebrate.”
BttB has a deceptively knock-about community face which belies the rigour and deliberately strategic work going on in the background to ensure expansion and programs are sustainable. “There’s a lot of complexity to what we do in the background but the principle of Boys to the Bush is simple,” Adam explained. “What we do is connect. We work on the problem facing each child, not all the other stuff around it. Being involved with Newsboys and other charitable partners means we can do things our way, not rely on government and be subject to all its stipulations. When we establish ourselves in a new community, absolutely everything we do is with the kids’ best interests in mind because we know we can’t just fail, pack up and let a kid down for the thousandth time in their life.”
From humble, almost accidental beginnings when holiday camp discussions with troubled youths led Adam and co-founders Richard Leahy and Tim Sanson to realise these youths needed more constant, determined and considered support, BttB now has almost100 staff in six locations, with more on the way. Roughly a quarter of the organisation’s workforce identify as First Nation people, not by design, just by the nature of what is being attempted. A large cohort of boys helped are Indigenous youths from regional and rural backgrounds, making them statistically the worst for educational outcomes, employment, mental health and incarceration rates.
BttB has embraced Indigenous art, design, storytelling and culture wherever possible, for all participants, and continues to invest in education and training for staff along these lines just because it feels right that part of the journey for every BttB participant should be learning what country they’re on, what the local totems are and other such important knowledge.
Adam admits to still being emotionally affected when he realises how much some children have come to rely on him and his crew, even if they would never show it or say so.
The bottom line is that everybody needs belief and respect to thrive, including Adam. As he said, “I can see Newsboys’ belief in us and what we are doing and that they are here for the journey. That means a lot because the kids need us for the long haul.”
Nick Place 2022