Meeting a Minister of the Crown would not have been on the agenda for 11 young Kaikohe men six months ago.
As statistical representatives of an apparently decaying town they had no qualifications, were long-term unemployed or had never held down a job and most had little prospect of ever getting one.
On Thursday they met Te Ururoa Flavell, co-leader of the Maori Party, Whanau Ora and Maori Development Minister and Associate Minister of Economic Development, who was making a visit to view the manukau planting being undertaken on 230 hectares of Northland College-owned land on the outskirts of Kaikohe.
The manuka (a scientifically-developed hybrid with rapid-growth properties) will initially be used for medicinal purposes and later for honey production as part of a joint venture among Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry for Social Development and the Ministry for Primary Industries under the umbrella of the Tai Tokerau Economic Action Plan launched in February.
Hemi Stevens, one of the youths clearing gorse before planting the manuka, said it was a chance at life for him.
"I could tell you things about this town that aren't good but what this project has done is get us learning and working on the land and it's getting us fit," he said.
All 11 who started work with Project Manuka four months ago have passed Level 2 NCEA as part of the National Certificate of Forestry.
One youngster has already landed a job in the logging industry and some have the opportunity to work with Waipapa Pine, a Maori-owned business.
Mr Flavell said the first part of the plan to get "these fellas" into work had been achieved.
"The idea is to create a pipeline to allow more to come through and right now there are eleven who are in employment because of this scheme," he said.
Jack Johnston, in charge of employing and training the boys, said it was a "huge leap forward" not just for the boys but for their families as well.