For 17-year-old Nikita Henare a five-day military-style course has been a "life changer".
The Whangarei teen admits the Blue Light Life Skills camp may have set her straight after getting into "a bit of trouble".
The week-long camp was run by Blue Light in partnership with police and the Defence Force and provides 14- to 17-year-olds with life-skills and leadership training.
Nikita was one of two Northlanders awarded top prizes at the end of the course, which ended with a parade last Friday at Blockhouse Bay in Auckland.
For the Whangarei Girls High School student crawling through mud, tackling tree-top obstacles and learning to march under strict supervision has made her value the strength of team work and confirmed a career in the forces was for her.
"This course has built my confidence and I feel I can stand up in a group now," she said.
"You come away learning so much. It's been a life-changer. It's epic."
Nikita, a keen waka ama paddler with Mitamitaga, said she loved working in a team and recognised the support of others when things got tough.
"If you were struggling with something there was always someone ahead of you, someone with you and behind you, that would help you make it through."
Right from the get-go strict orders were given to the new arrivals. They were ordered to immediately get out of the van and head to their living quarters, which were kept spick and span and subject to regular inspections.
Nikita found marching and learning the sequence was the hardest part of the course. But on parade day, when parents, friends and family were invited to attend, her syndicate of 10 "nailed" the routine.
Nikita was awarded the top prize of her syndicate, a proud moment she said she would treasure.
Another winner from Northland was 17-year-old Bligh McClellan, a Year 13 student from Tauraroa Area School.
He was given the overall merit award which recognised attitude, self-discipline, self-confidence, team work and respect to staff and fellow course members.
The orderliness and structure was something he thrived on. "After this I absolutely have to join the forces, perhaps the navy. This is one of the best things I have done, but it wasn't the easiest."
The highlight for him was the mud run which involved completing a course filled with muddy obstacles as a team. The physical aspect of the course was also interspersed with classroom sessions and each graduate gained 12 NCEA credits.
"This course has given me a lot to think about. I think it has developed me as a person," Bligh said.
Community Constable Darron Goodwin of the Whangarei police helped the youth on the course and said the changes in them was evident.
"You see the kids transform and by the end of the week they are fully involved in the activities and working as a team. They all came a long way.
"Five days really can change someone's life."
He said it also enabled the young people to see police in a different light rather than guys in a blue uniform.