Since the South Pacific Islands Institute (SPII) began in 1988 it has evolved from a humble mother and son operation teaching eight students industrial sewing, to providing a variety of courses for up to 150 students.

It has never lost that familial quality however, which directors Rachel and Clive Bourne said was key to keeping at-risk youth on the straight and narrow.

The pair are not just partners in teaching, they have eight children of their own in addition to the growing number of honorary family members.

Clive said a large part was removing any barrier that stopped students showing up, whether that is providing them with a bus card or helping younger siblings to school.


"If a student has to get their little brother or sister to school in the morning, that's just an earlier start," he said.

Many of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and Clive said it could be brought back to one word " "poverty".

"If they are going to go hungry " get them breakfast. They will turn up if they know it means a meal."

It was not long before an early child care and youth centre were added, and in 2006 the institute diversified further, offering up a beauty services course.

Rachel said prior to that point Maori and Pacifica people made up only 2 per cent of the industry.

After students graduate and move on to university, Clive said a number will reappear years later as tutors themselves.

Rachel remembers one girl in particular.

"She was one student without a great upbringing. She was my worst student as a 16-year-old. Now she's been student of the year and received a Wintec scholarship."

Today, the student is a top beauty therapist at one of the classiest hotels in Auckland.

The centre also now provides the National Certificate in Recreation & Sport and students are never far from a role model, with All Black and Waikato Chiefs player Liam Messam mentoring at least once a week.

"Every time the Chiefs come through he will bring them in," Clive said.

Some of the players have even made use of the beauty services, with Ben Tameifuna receiving a full-body wax as punishment from his teammates.

Sonny Bill Williams is another regular drop-in, often appearing to give the sports students a lesson on the boxing bags.

It is certainly rubbing off on the students, with the team recently flying to Hawaii to take part in the Aloha World Sevens and coming away with the gold medal.

Clive said for some of the boys the trip was a first in many ways.

"Some of the boys never had a passport or been on a plane. They arrive in their caps looking like Snoop Dogg and then they go from thinking they're 20-year-olds to being 16 or 17 again."

A more recent tournament between all the youth providers in Hamilton saw SPII receive a second trophy.

But for all the triumphs this extended family have experienced their own tragedies.

"We have had ups and downs. We lost a girl when she was a week away from graduating. She died in a car crash.

"She literally went out and I said you have to come back and do a treatment on your mum. Four hours later we found out she was taken away from us in a crash."

Every year the student is remembered in the prizegiving, when the Mana Wahine or Strongest Woman trophy is presented to a student.

"Her dad carved the award and he comes every year to award it," Rachel said.

When Clive first came up with the idea of SPII he envisioned a one-stop place for youth.

It wasn't a smooth start for Clive either, who didn't get on well with academia as a youth.

"I hold a record in my high school for spending four years in fifth form," he jokes.

"I grew up in Te Rapa with nothing and it's amazing to see these kids coming through."

It is a team effort that keeps the place going, with every staff member regularly going beyond their call of duty to keep their charges on track.

"With every person the one thing they have is passion," Rachel said.

It seems to be working, with the last two New Zealand Qualification Authority audits awarding SPII the highest level.

The institute may employ some unconventional teaching methods, but you cannot question the results.

To teach literacy the institute has a recording studio where, providing the students do not curse, they can write and record their own raps.

"They won't read Shakespeare but get them to write a rap with a positive message and they learn things by osmosis.

"We have our own flavour," Clive said.

Even the rewards are treated as a learning opportunity.

Take the class trip to Rainbow's End at the end of the year. Students are expected to organise the event and phone ahead to arrange tickets and special deals.

"We try and teach them life skills," Rachel said. "There's some stuff you don't learn at university and that's what you get from your upbringing."