How camping can get at-risk teenagers back on track

Your parents used to tell you being in the outdoors was good for you, camping was character building, roughing it and becoming "at one" with nature was brimming with benefits.

Paul Dickson is counting on it.

An outdoor educator, Mr Dickson's experiences working with kids and with the Wilderness Society through the Illawarra and South Coast have prompted him to organise a program of camping expeditions to help build the self-esteem and confidence of at-risk teenagers.

"I [have worked] with these troubled kids from all over, kids who hated school or had troubles with their parents," Mr Dickson said.

Through team-building exercises, Mr Dickson said young people "a couple of steps before juvenile justice" could be put back on the right track.

He said the program would run workshops through schools before going out camping, to build trust and connect with troubled teens.

"Many of them have trust issues with adults, particularly if they have been abused or had other problems," he said.

"Building up that trust can take months, you have to have that relationship before you can go out camping with them. You have to show them you care about their opinions."

Mr Dickson hopes to take his first group from Lake Illawarra and Oak Flats high schools into the Illawarra wilderness in October, and is raising funds to buy essential camping supplies. He is vying for government grants to fund the program, but in the meantime, has organised a community fund-raiser at Albion Park Bowling Club on May 9. Raffles, entertainment and a retro music trivia have been organised, with $35 tickets including a two-course dinner.

For more information, email Paul on

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