Campbelltown Elder Uncle Dave Bell has been empowering disadvantaged youth from Liverpool to Campbelltown and surrounding areas in NSW over the past 20 years through the Young Spirit Mentoring Program.

Founded in 2001, Uncle Dave says the program focuses on youth empowerment through boxing, fitness, discipline, belonging, youth mentoring and giving back to community.

“Growing up we never had role models to pick us up and to guide us, I never started boxing until I was 25 and that’s way too late,” Uncle Dave told the National Indigenous Times.

“It’s important to make the right choices in life and that’s what we are trying to do with these kids, chaperone and guide them, nurture, love and support them.”

YSMP is an Aboriginal-led multicultural program, with the idea starting from The Block in Redfern, where Uncle Dave learnt about spiritual wellbeing from the Elders that gathered there. The program runs two days a week in the afternoons at the local basketball courts where Uncle Dave and his volunteers run a boxing and fitness session.

“We have about 40 kids come, we start with exercise then we do a fitness circuit that goes for 20 minutes and then they get stuck into the boxing,” Uncle Dave said.

“We give the kids their own pads and mitts. After they come four times, they basically own it. It’s incentive-based, we give them their own uniform and they’re then representing and doing good things in the community.”

The Wiradjuri Elder is a prominent figure in Campbelltown, spending his days running YSMP, getting up at 4am to organise and pick up the local kids, train and feed them, then prepare for school.

Outside of YSMP, Uncle Dave provides mentoring and support to families, parents

and schools to make sure the kids know they have somewhere to belong and to provide a positive track away from trouble. Uncle Dave estimates about 10,000 local kids have benefited from the program.

“We want to help the kids with routine, education, making sure they have pathways in life. There is still a lot of post-traumatic stress in homes, and we feel it every day,” he said.

“We are helping to change the mentality of the adults, there is still a lot of trauma there.”

Uncle Dave also runs a food distribution initiative that has developed over the pandemic period, feeding families through Macarthur and surrounding towns who are struggling.

“We are doing five tonnes per week of food, anyone who struggles for food we help feed and we work with Second Bite, we want to get this food out to struggling families,” he said.

Uncle Dave has also worked with Campbelltown locals Ato Plodzicki-Faoagali and Marion Ah Tong (Tino) who are representing Samoa at the Tokyo Olympics in boxing.

Samoa has won only one medal at the Olympics before, but the Macarthur boys, aged 21 and 22, are looking to change that.

“These boys are like our kids working in our gyms and come from our community, not coming from elite gyms and resources,” Uncle Dave said.

By Teisha Cloos