A Tikipunga High School student and kapa haka tutor has received the Lions Clubs Young Ambassadors Award at an annual Whangārei event last week.

Seven local Lions Clubs joint their efforts to get young leaders from the region together and award their academic achievements and their involvement in the community.

This year's host Kamo Lions Club say they had seven finalists who are senior students from five different schools from the wider Whangārei area.

"We had a great night, and the contestants were amazing," Kamo Lions Club member Judy Taingahue said.

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The three judges of the night were Sharon Morgan, Whangārei deputy mayor, Judy Allison, Lions Clubs district governor for the Upper North Island, and Steve Smith, chief executive for the Chamber of Commerce.

After interviewing each finalist individually in the lead-up to the awards night, the judges picked the three winners at the awards night last Thursday at the Town Basin.

Seventeen-year-old Tikipunga High School student Te Aranga Hopa was named the Lions Clubs Young Ambassador for 2019 and received $1000 in prize money.

Flynn Symonds of Whangārei Boys' High School took out second place, winning $500 and Billy Alexander-Crawford from Kamo High School won third place receiving $250.

All finalists (from left): Bill Alexander-Crawford, Flynn Symonds, Te Aranga Hopa , Allyssa Lopez, Bailey Walker, Eva McIlhinney and Rutu Hebbal.
All finalists (from left): Bill Alexander-Crawford, Flynn Symonds, Te Aranga Hopa , Allyssa Lopez, Bailey Walker, Eva McIlhinney and Rutu Hebbal.

Te Aranga's mother, Hinemoa Hopa, said the family was blown away that Te Aranga had won.

"We were initially so proud that he was invited to take part in the programme. To see him speak and to hear all the other amazing speeches made us feel very grateful," Hinemoa said.

As part of the award night, each finalist gave a five-minute speech with a topic of their personal choice.

The speeches are often youth relevant and pick up on themes like suicide, environmental issues, racism and visions for New Zealand's future.

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Te Aranga talked about his need for connection. Growing up, the marae and his whānau have been an important part of life and still are today.

He explained to the audience how his family, friends and school have helped him become the young man and community leader his is today.

His mum describes Te Aranga as an all-round talent who joins every school team he possibly can.

"He is a funny and warm person," Hinemoa said.

The senior year student visits schools around Whangārei to teach kids kapa haka, which is his greatest passion.

He also tutors primary and secondary school students and is a high-achieving academic himself.

Tikipunga High School deputy principal Emma Leyland described Te Aranga as an outstanding student who well deserved the award. He was widely known for his many engagements in the community.

Te Aranga says it was easy to speak in front of the audience as he felt very at home among the crowd.

"I really enjoy being part of the evening and meeting people who gave me connections that might help me for my future," he said.

"Connection is a necessity. It's the connections with people that will get me to where I want to be in life.

"I'm grateful to be given this opportunity," he said.

Te Aranga has only a few weeks of school left and wants to become an electrical apprentice in Whangārei.

He is dreaming of travelling around the world once he's qualified to learn more about cultures and people from other countries.

No matter where Te Aranga will be and what he will do, he will always stay involved with the kapa haka.

"It's my life."