Whangārei teen Jacob Gibbons says giving Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a Christmas card he designed was just one highlight of receiving an award recognising young people in state care.

Gibbons, 17, and 16-year-old Maxine Harnett, also from Whangārei, were recipients of the Prime Minister's Oranga Tamariki Awards which provide scholarships to help young people follow their dreams.

They headed to Wellington last Tuesday to attend a ceremony at Parliament and meet Ardern.

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Gibbons, who has been in state care his whole life, was able to give Ardern a Christmas card he designed.

"She was over the moon. I wrote a message for the three of them including Clarke and Neve."

The card features a man carrying a child on his shoulders at the beach and was chosen as the Oranga Tamariki Christmas card to be shared with social workers and caregivers around the country.

The Christmas card designed by Jacob Gibbons. He gave one of these cards to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with a message for her and her whānau.
The Christmas card designed by Jacob Gibbons. He gave one of these cards to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with a message for her and her whānau.

Design is a passion of Gibbons - his PM award will help him study at Whitecliffe Arts and Design College in Auckland next year.

"Art helps me to stay positive when I'm feeling down. Sometimes I think my work sucks, but I've learned to believe in myself," he said.

Gibbons said he's had many different caregivers and said it was "really tough" for him when he was younger.

One of his biggest supporters has been his social worker Daniel McGrath, who nominated him for the award.

McGrath has known Gibbons for about four and half years but has been his social worker for about three and a half years.

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"I nominated Jacob for this award because despite all the trauma and disruption he has had in his life, he has always been focused and determined on achieving his goals and dreams," he said.

McGrath said when he first met Gibbons he was quiet, shy and didn't seem to believe in himself, but that has changed.

"Jacob is very proactive and can clearly express and articulate his own views, his wishes, his dreams and follow through with these," he said.

Gibbons said McGrath helped him get into Carruth, the boarding house at Whangārei Boys' High School where he found his true home - a place where he fitted in.

"We were like a family there, and the other boys were like brothers for me," Gibbons said.

Gibbons said other highlights of the awards included meeting William Waiirua, who hosted the awards, and the other award recipients.

"We all share a similar life story. Some don't have families, some disowned by their parents. It was so inspiring to hear about how hard they have persevered to overcome hardships and achieve their goals."

Meanwhile, Harnett, who has been in the care of her Uncle and Aunty since she was a baby, said the whole experience was "amazing".

"It was awesome to meet other young people who have also gone through tough times in their lives," she said.

Harnett's award will allow her to attend Outward Bound, which she hopes will help with her goal of starting a career in the Navy.