Every year Youth Action's NSW Youth Work Awards receives a number of incredible nominations for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Looking to pay tribute to the ongoing dedication of those nominated in this category, in 2020 the NSW Youth Work Hall of Fame was inaugurated.


The Hall of Fame honours the hard work and commitment that these individuals have shown over their professional career. Over the course of the next year Youth Action will highlight and share the stories of the NSW Youth Work Hall of Fame inductees. 




Dale Garbutt

Dale Garbutt has been a youth worker in the Hunter Region for over 20 years. He started at The Palais Youth Venue, run by Newcastle City Council, which then evolved into The Loft Youth venue in a different location, and dedicated himself to engaging and facilitating creative and social justice programs with young people for some 13 years until the sad demise of the venue. Under Dale's leadership The Loft won a number of awards for its programs and achieved a high level of respect in the Hunter region and beyond. In the last 7 years Dale has evolved into a significant figure in support of young people and families from refugee background at both the Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre Lambton and at Callaghan College, Waratah campus. His limitless energy and innovation in developing programs in these two roles have produced great outcomes for young people.


Melissa Leaudais

Posthumously Awarded
Melissa Leaudais was a much loved youth worker who sadly passed away in late 2021. She spent the majority of her career working with Weave Youth and Community Services. She started in their Kool Kids program based in La Perouse. She was responsible for driving their Surfing Program, sharing her love of the ocean with the Kool Kids and gifting them with a beautiful healthy outlet that they could carry with them for life. Even after Mel left that role, it is still the most popular program to date. She later worked as a caseworker at Weave's Woolloomooloo Community Hub and their Waterloo Women and Children's Centre. Mel's generosity, kind heartedness, and passion for working with young people and families impacted everyone who met her. She made people feel like they were the most important people in the world and saw her role as supporting them to be the best that they could. More recently Mel worked at Marrickville Youth Resource Centre and the Women's Justice Network where she brought that same energy and love of helping people. Mel's heart was devoted to working with children, young people, and families. She knew that trust is built in moments of laughter and trauma is healed by embracing the things that bring you joy and sharing that joy with others. She was a true role model of what is best about youth work. She will be deeply missed by all those whose lives she touched.



Laurie Matthews

Laurie Matthews is the CEO of Caretakers Youth Services in Bondi but he will always describe himself as a youth worker. His long-term commitment to youth work is unequalled, and he has never weakened his resolve to 'make things better' for young people. Laurie believes strongly in young people’s value, worth, and rights, and has delivered relationship-based connections to young people for his entire working life.He first became interested in youth work at 16 while involved in a school holiday program at Holdsworth Street Woollahra. That experience transitioned into supporting a teenage after school and weekend drop-in centre in 1974 - 1975 which eventually became Caretakers on January 1, 1977Laurie worked as a volunteer building that program to what it is today. Youth work has always been more than a job to Laurie, it is a life-long vocation.Laurie has been a dedicated, consistent and steady person at a key service delivering support to young, vulnerable and disadvantaged people who are not living at home and may have had very traumatic lives.Laurie once said that he hoped he could make things a little better for someone each day, which is a commendable goal to his commitment to youth work practice.



Jen Parke

Jen has dedicated her career to protecting and empowering young people over her  25+ years as a youth  worker in Sydney and the Northern Rivers, NSW region. In  roles ranging from direct service to program management and working with  Indigenous youth, young people experiencing homelessness, involved with the  justice system, and struggling with drug and alcohol issues and mental health, Jen's  approach is to find a way to give young people a voice and an authentic seat at the  table. Jen is one of the most inspiring youth workers in the region and tirelessly advocates for unlocking services and opportunities for young people. Jen’s  extraordinary commitment to young people shines through in everything she does.



Sonya Parker

Sonya is colourfully animated and vibrantly inspirational character who lights up the world up with her ethics, energy, laugh and commitment the youth sector! The Hawkesbury Community Outreach Services, where Sonya works, is based in the lower Blue Mountains nestled in a warm & inviting community centre. HCOS’ mission is to provide quality services delivering programs and support directed towards strengthening the community connectedness, wellbeing, safety and knowledge. Some of the programs Sonya implements are innovative and often one of a kind. She takes into consideration the needs and background of the young person as an individual or group and pieces together the perfect program to ensure the best possible outcome for the young people in her care. If you have met Sonya you will understand and have felt how she transforms people, places and thoughts with her positive and open-minded ways to approach life!



Bernie Shakeshaft

Bernie Shakeshaft is the founder and director of BackTrack Youth Works. With 25 years in the youth sector he has helped some of the most disadvantaged young people throughout Australia turn their lives around through BackTrack’s innovative youth work. As a young man he worked for many years as a jackaroo and a wildlife researcher in the Northern Territory and was mentored extensively by Aboriginal people in the region. This formative experience radically transformed Bernie’s perspective of learning and what it means to practically share skills and knowledge in an innately non-judgemental and non-prescriptive way. Upon returning to NSW, he started formulating an idea using working dogs to support vulnerable young Australians who were having a hard time. Bernie saw young people being incarcerated, dropping out of school at increasingly young ages, experiencing severe psychological distress and at risk of falling into a cycle of entrenched disadvantage that could affect the rest of their lives. Frustrated by the cracks within the existing system, Bernie knew there was a gap that needed to be filled for this group of young people. BackTrack was his solution and the mission was simple: to help as many kids having a hard time as possible. Bernie founded BackTrack and is motivated by three goals; to keep kids alive, out of jail and chasing their hopes and dreams.




Justin has been working with young people for more than 25 years in a variety of roles. These include working at a Summer Camp in NJ, USA, casual Links To Learning Officer at Manly Council, volunteer, casual and full time YDO role at Warringah Council. For the past 3 years Justin has been Youth Services Team Leader at Northern Beaches Council. Justin continues to work hard establishing and innovating a variety of youth programs, events and activities on the Northern Beaches and has built a new youth team with a focus on innovation, community and council collaboration, and partnerships. Justin is a strong advocate for young people to be involved in decision making processes which has led to creative ways that council consults with young people


Natalie is a passionate and dedicated Youth Practitioner, Leader and Change maker. For 15 years, Natalie has been the manager of Blacktown Youth Services Association (BYSA). Alongside her role at BYSA, Natalie is a board member of Western Sydney Community Forum where she represents the needs and passions of young people. Natalie is a strong advocate for and driving systems change across the Western Sydney region.  
Throughout her career Natalie has been guided by the thousands of young people she has had the honour of working alongside. It is this guidance that has seen Natalie manage the only grassroots youth organisations that are immersed in Youth Culture and creativity. It has been a place of safety for young people who are living on the streets, an outlet for young people without a voice, and a sense of family for young people who cannot live at home. 

Narelle Clay wears many hats – CEO of Southern Youth and Family Services (SYFS), Youth Worker, Mentor, and Advocate for Social Justice. For 35 years she has supported many young people in the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, South West Sydney, and the Southern Tablelands of NSW. 
Narelle has been a Member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness, a Member of the National Advisory Group Better Futures Local Solutions, a Member of the NSW Homelessness Alliance, a Member of the National Data Users’ Advisory Group, a Member of the NSW FACS Homelessness Data Advisory Group, a Member of the Southern Region’s Area Managers Group, as well as various other Commonwealth, State and Local Government Advisory processes. She believes everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their aspirations and works hard to secure housing, education and training opportunities, employment, secure income and a decent standard of living for all young people who seek her support. 


Glen is a Kamilaroi nation man who has been advocating for youth rights for the past 20 years. Glen has engaged in advocating for youth rights since he was a young person himself, he started by volunteering in numerous youth advisory positions, such as the NSW Premier Youth Advisory Council, Regional Board of Youth Affairs and he founded the first Moree Youth Council. Glen was twice named Moree’s Young Person of the Year and his fierce passion for youth rights has developed into a powerful career as a youth worker. For the past 16 years Glen has supported rural young people and Aboriginal young people in Moree while working with the Miyay Birray Youth Service. In his spare time away from working with Miyay Birray Glen supports young people who are navigating the criminal justice system and the juvenile detention space. Glen was also a pivotal member of Youth Action's (YAPAs) Aboriginal advisory group that held the first NSW Aboriginal Youth Conference, bringing together delegates from all around the state to develop an Aboriginal Youth Policy which was delivered to the Premier and Minister for Aboriginal affairs.  
Glen is an incredibly dedicated youth worker who will go to any length to advocate for the young people he works with. He has never been afraid to represent young people's views in the toughest of spaces, and against the toughest opposition.  
Glen has dedicated his career to providing space and empowerment for young people and is an especially strong advocate for the rights and voices of Aboriginal young people. Glen is a tireless Youth Worker who is thought of as “the person who is always there, any time, any day, whenever needed” by his peers and the young people he works with.  


Russell started as a volunteer at WAYS in 1987, and was the Chief Executive Officer of WAYS Youth & Family from 1989 until his passing in October 2019. Russell is responsible for the unbelievable growth and achievements of the wonderful organisation that is WAYS Youth & Family. As CEO, Russell always endeavoured to ensure that WAYS programs and activities are totally directed towards the needs of the young people and their families in the area. 
Russell dedicated his life to WAYS and the young people it serviced, no one was turned away, he did everything to make sure they were kept safe and listened to. He was an advocate for young people everywhere, he spoke up and supported them when their voices needed to be heard. 
Russell was a true visionary and innovator with an admirable sense of social justice. He has positively impacted careers and shaped people’s lives for the better. 


Samantha King has been working in the Youth Sector in the Northern Beaches / Northern Sydney region for the past 17 years with the Business Education Network. She has been an ongoing advocate for young people entering the workforce and in more recent years, the broader support for young people in their transition from adolescence to adulthood / from secondary education to the journey that lies beyond. 
Through her role at the Northern Beaches Youth Interagency as Chairperson she has ensured that the voice of young people is utilised for development of key projects to ensure the highest rate of success and support from young people. 


Graeme made the big leap from the corporate to the community sector over 15 years ago to concentrate on his passion for supporting young people on their sometimes difficult journey to independence. Graeme has a relentless attitude when it comes to uplifting those around him. His nature is calm and joyous, even in the most stressful of situation he is able to remain calm and dedicated to supporting those around him. 
Graeme never compromises to deliver dedicated outcomes to young people, he remains patient and consistent with each young person he meets. As a manager at CORE Community Services he continually drives the over arching importance of empowering young people to make their own choices and strive for independence. 




In 2013 Youth Action founded the NSW Youth Work Awards to create an
annual celebration of the exceptional work of youth services and youth
workers across NSW.
The awards are an opportunity for the NSW Youth
Work Sector to recognise youth workers, services, groups and projects
who provide an outstanding contribution to the health, safety and
wellbeing of young people in NSW.
They are a platform to highlight
the value of youth work and youth workers in NSW, and share their
stories to government and the wider community.







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