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How a lime farm in Dubbo is changing lives.

“We hug around here.”

Welcoming us to LeaderLife in Dubbo with open arms and her signature bright pink smile is Founder and CEO, Joh Leader.

The social enterprise started in 2010 after Joh identified a massive gap in services for troubled youth in the area.

Providing at-risk youth with early intervention programs and long-term employment pathways, Joh and her team have been channelling energy and compassion towards helping kids live their best life ever since.

“Kids that come to us have so many different stories,” Joh said.

“Many of them have been caught in the crossfire of some incredibly challenging things like domestic violence, trauma or abuse.

“We started LeaderLife from a relentless desire to help the kids falling through the cracks lead a life filled with love and purpose."

The program has only been continuing to grow and evolve over the years. In 2020, LeaderLife took over the lease of a lime farm in Narromine and started the Soil2Soul initiative for kids aged roughly 13-18 who are at risk of going to juvenile detention or disengaging from school.

“Soil2Soul came about after a young fella told me they really wanted to work but didn’t know how to,” Joh said.

“We had a crazy business idea that ended up being the best idea ever, to employ unemployable kids, and we took over the lease of a lime farm in Narromine.

“We’ve got over 2,500 lime trees that the boys take care of. We attach so much training to our programs so they can develop work-readiness skills across the agricultural industry and transition into mainstream employment one day.

“We infiltrated the local market pretty quickly through markets and local business, and we now sell into Coles all around the country.

“This was actually Australia’s first commercial lime farm planted in 1985. When we first got here it was in the middle of a drought and a lot of the trees were dying.

“The kids have actually brought them back to life and it’s been beautiful to watch them learn how important it is to care about things with good nutrition, lots of water, pruning and staking up the trees that are about to fall over.

“It’s been quite metaphorical for their own growth.”

Joh Leader and the team on the lime farm in Narromine.
Joh Leader and the team on the lime farm in Narromine.

In the time it’s been operating, Soil2Soul has helped more than 40 young people commence work experience or further training and reduced cases of police contact with participants by over 80%.

Dozens of kids have also been able to obtain their provisional licenses after using the LeaderLife van purchased with a grant from Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation to build up their learner hours by driving to and from the lime farm.

“If you ask the kids what’s the one thing LeaderLife has taught them, most will say responsibility,” Joh said.

“Owning your actions is so important for young people, so they can manage their emotions without resorting to anger or violence when things get a bit tough.

“I think they definitely learn to care about themselves and other people. It’s pretty special to watch them find their confidence and get their little spirit back during their time with us.”

The staggering success rate of the program can largely be put down to its tailored approach, as youth worker Alex Boney explained.

“What makes this program work is that we don’t make it mandatory for kids to come,” Alex said.

“These boys started with nothing and now they’ve got a range of qualifications they could use to work on any land, farm or agricultural business.

“The boys love it and these kids are role models for me. They’re teaching me every day and what really makes it work is that these kids become family.”

Fostering relationships and trust is at the core of what LeaderLife does.

“We know that connection, relationship and genuine attachment with young people has the greatest influence on helping them make good decisions,” Joh said.

“Making sure that young people feel safe, feel honoured, feel loved and cared about in our community is absolutely at the centre of everything we do.

“They’re amazing young people and they deserve the absolute best in life, so we work to create that for them every day of the week.”

Funding originally provided by Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation helped kick start the work on the lime farm.

“It takes such a village to raise a child and we’ll be forever grateful that Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation came on board,” Joh said.

“Their support inspired others to get behind what we’re doing as well which was really important.

“Our partnership is absolutely rewriting the future.

"These kids have hope on the horizon, they have love in their hearts, they have energy and so much opportunity in front of them."

“There’s an old saying that when you know better, you do better, and our kids are absolutely doing better.”

About LeaderLife

LeaderLife provides at-risk youth in Dubbo with early intervention programs and long term employment pathways.

Founded in 2010 to fill a large gap in services, the social enterprise is helping young people thrive by developing personal and professional skills to make positive life choices.

In 2020, LeaderLife took over the lease of a lime farm in Narromine and launched the Soil2Soul initiative to help teens develop work-readiness skills across the agricultural industry and lead their best life.