Traction empowering youth

Traction empowering youth

Sandy Murdoch has been an EO Brisbane member since 2004 and started TRACTION in 2015. Luke met Sandy onsite at a new workshop set up in December by TRACTION at an old Horticulture Compound previously a TAFE campus in Alexandra Hills. The site, which Traction hopes to secure on a ‘peppercorn’ lease basis, has plenty of space, parking, a covered break area and most conveniently, a few sheds ideal for a workshop and storage for a heap of donated pushies for TRACTION participants to restore.

TRACTION’s mission is to empower young people in need. Participants are identified by their school and attend TRACTION workshops to restore a bicycle for one day a week over an 8-10 week period. It’s an earn-a-bike program where TRACTION encourages skill development and active lifestyles and participants keep the bikes when they graduate! As cool as this sounds it’s potentially life changing and harnesses the diverse talents of Mentors to help students rediscover the joy of learning. In just under 3 years, 421 students have graduated TRACTION programs.

Sandy says, “I started TRACTION in 2015 with a bunch of dedicated volunteers in a shed at Capalaba. At the end of the day, not everyone achieves their potential in a traditional classroom. TRACTION provides an action-based learning experience where our Mentors support disengaged 12-15 years olds to develop practical and life skills. We aspire to be positive roles models and help kids build confidence, self-belief and experience a sense of success. We use bikes as projects for the students because through their own hard work, they can create something special. It’s wonderful to see the sense of achievement when they put their painted bikes together”.

The program has grown swiftly and is now delivered in two of TRACTION’s own workshops on Brisbane’s Southside (Moorooka) and Brisbane’s Bayside (Alexandra Hills), and in partnership with the YMCA Vocational School in Logan.  Plans are underway to set up a new workshop in facilities provided by Beaudesert High School in the coming months.

Sandy continues, “We partner with schools who identify students from year 7, 8 and 9 that aren’t hitting their potential. Whilst there is an abundance of vocational and developmental programs for students in years 10, 11 and 12, there is no other program like TRACTION to catch 12 to 15 year-old students who are at risk of dropping out of school. We’re about reaching them before they fall through the cracks. The life trajectory for a 12 year-old that drops out of school is perilous and the cost to the community significant.”

TRACTION Mentors interview students at school in a mock job interview where they qualify for the program if they make a commitment to attend each week and exhibit behaviours that honour their school’s expectations. Mentors make it clear the program involves hard work. The first day in the workshop is an exciting time as participants get to know their Mentors and form new friendships with the other students. Each group includes 6-7 students, 3 Mentors and a representative from the school, so everyone gets to know each other really well over the program.

Luke spent a morning in the TRACTION workshop with students from Alexandra Hills High School and was “moved by the whole set up” and very grateful for the opportunity to visit.

“The students were thriving in an organised, safe and fun environment. To see them so enthusiastic about what they were doing, what they were planning to achieve and describing to me the processes they were working through was really amazing”, said Luke.

“The students had just chosen their bikes from a bunch donated by the community and the Mentors were guiding them through the bike ‘strip-down’ process. They were eager to learn and working with focus, carefully labelling parts and documenting required parts lists.”

It’s not just bike skills that participants learn. They share team roles each week, including Team Leader, Safety Officer, Parts/Equipment Officer and Chef/Canteen Officer.  The roles are designed so students can develop team, leadership and communication skills.

Luke goes on to say, “Sandy and the Mentors take the students through a vision building process where they set goals and write them on large post-it notes and stick on the wall for all to see. This is such a great way to get the children interacting in a positive way from the word go”.

Selected students who graduate the Bicycle Build program have the opportunity to return as Student Mentors to pay it forward and support others or participate in a Small Engines program where they develop further mechanical skills working on Honda ‘postie’ motorbikes and lawn mowers.

Talking to Sandy about the bigger picture, his goals are inspiring. In the next 12 months alone TRACTION will provide places for 240 young people in need to participate. The team plans to grow the program and reach more communities in need by adopting a ‘replication strategy’ where TRACTION keeps developing programs that engage young people and delivers in concert with local partners in hotspots of youth disengagement.

TRACTION significantly subsidises school participation and relies on corporate sponsorship, philanthropic donations, community fundraising and grants to help cover its program delivery expenses. It’s supporters include businesses, private families, community groups and local councils who make cash donations or provide in-kind support.

TRACTION welcomes the members of the business community to visit its workshops to see the program in action.

“It’s very powerful when we have special guests along. It reinforces for our participants that the community cares about them and as their confidence builds they ask questions and really appreciate visitors sharing their life experience. Many of our guests also see they can make a difference, whether it be supplying some safety vests, sandpaper or paint, donating an old bike or making a donation – everything helps,” said Sandy.

In 2018 TRACTION needs to secure 240 “Scholarships” of $1,000 each to provide access for 240 participants to the program.

For more information: or @tractionbuilds on Facebook and Instagram.

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