Life didn’t look promising for Joe. The troubled teenager spent years in and out of foster homes, and rarely went to school. One day when he did, he threatened his teacher and classmates with a knife. 

This story, like so many others, could have ended badly. Instead, Joe began working towards a happier ending through Project Booyah.

Developed by the Coomera District Police (CPIU) in partnership with the PCYC, Education Queensland and Gold Coast Institute of TAFE (GCIT), Project Booyah is designed to help ‘at-risk’ young people like Joe turn their lives around, helping them develop the skills they need to overcome problems like drug and alcohol abuse, disengagement at school, and involvement in criminal behaviour.

The program has three broad aims, said Detective Senior Constable Nathan Antonik, who helped establish the program in 2012. “We want the kids reengaged back into school, we want them to get a job, and for their offending behaviours to drop away.”

Project Booyah, fittingly named after a slang word expressing joy or excitement, has had such positive results that it now runs in six locations across Queensland: Cairns, Capalaba, Logan, Nerang, Palm Beach and Townsville.

Once a young person is referred to the service and their application is accepted, they embark on the first phase of the project: a three-day wilderness adventure and therapy camp. “We take the kids out bush,” said Nathan. “Out there they learn to fend for themselves. We camp out, we trek up mountains, we go canoeing.”

These structured activities are designed to help the kids develop the skills to get by in everyday life, like communication, conflict resolution, problem solving, decision-making, and impulse management.

The camp offers an opportunity for the kids to break down some barriers with the police and build rapport with them. “Let’s face it,” acknowledged Nathan, “a lot of the interaction these kids have with police is fairly negative.”

Next comes community integration. Each region does a 14-week course developed by the GCIT tailored to the specific job opportunities in the area, such as hospitality at the Gold Coast, and horticulture at Logan. 

Once the TAFE course is finished, the kids go on another two-day wilderness camp to have fun with activities like abseiling and ropes courses. “That two days is a reward for working so hard throughout the four-month period,” said Nathan.

Once they’ve finished the program, Project Booyah graduates are linked with employers.

“We’ve got some fantastic corporate supporters,” said Nathan. “They guarantee all our kids at least an interview. Most of our kids aren’t that articulate in writing resumes, but they’re quite personable in an interview setting.” 

Project Booyah relies on outside funding from sources, such as a grant from the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation, which contributes to the cost of running wilderness camps and TAFE courses. “We live and breathe by community support and grants,” said Nathan.

These days Joe is one of the project’s growing number of success stories. He’s now completing his traineeship as a dental assistant while he studies for his Grade 12 certificate.

“Project Booyah really does make a difference,” said Nathan. “Kids like Joe are living a whole new life.”