John Horan has made his living by various means over the years - as a young man he completed his printer's apprenticeship at the Northland Age then headed for the UK (where he lost a glowing reference in a London taxi) - but he's never had a better, or a tougher job than the one he has now.
He's employed by St Saviour's Anglican Church in Kaitaia as the co-ordinator of Youth Ignite, charged with improving the lives of high school-age teenagers. And he's not expecting to become redundant any time soon.
He admitted last week that he hadn't been keen when he was approached by then vicar Bill Heald some five years ago. A committed Christian, he wasn't concerned about the nature of the job but did wonder if it could reliably pay the grocery bills.
The vicar's persistence, and wise counsel from his wife Jacey finally did the trick, however. And he hasn't regretted his decision for a moment.
"It's the best job I've ever had," he said.
"I've always had a heart for the under-privileged, the underdog, but this isn't a job. It's a calling."
The degree of deprivation suffered by some young people in and around Kaitaia had never ceased to amaze him, however. He routinely encountered teenagers who not only lived within utterly dysfunctional families, where drugs, alcohol, violence, hunger and other negative forces dominated their lives, but who had become divorced from the community to an extraordinary degree.
"Some of them have never been to the beach," he said.
"Can you believe that? They don't have vehicles so they can't get there, and often there's no mum or dad to take them, but most people would find it hard to believe that we have kids in this community who have had none of the experiences most of us take for granted."
His role was basically to give the youngsters a father figure and to provide a safe place, a place where they felt they belonged. And so began an often long process of rehabilitation.
There was a non-denominational Christian element to the programme, but nothing that could be described as 'Bible bashing'.
"We keep it pretty real," Mr Horan said.
"It's about setting them on a pathway, not through education or courses but just showing them how they can be part of the community, contributors to the community.
"Eighty per cent of them are at school, and most of them are keen to do well there, but they don't come from within the church. Most of them come from broken families, with gangster fathers or no fathers at all. There's drugs, alcohol, violence, in some cases an amazing lack of nurturing by their parents, all that carry-on. Our job is to show them love, to value them and encourage them to connect with the community."
Many of the teenagers were so receptive to that formula that their involvement with Ignite Youth provided a gateway to their homes, to the point where Mr Horan effectively became part of their whanau.
A team of youth leaders helped carry the load, and support was gratefully accepted from further afield, not least St Paul's congregation in Auckland, which routinely contributed supermarket vouchers, bulk food parcels, clothing and practical forms of assistance. With up to 50 teenagers involved at any given time, the need for such support was significant and on-going.
Funding had also been granted by the Community Organisations Grants Scheme (COGS), Lotteries and The Southern Trust, without which the programme would face huge difficulties.
It was all money well spent; for many of the teenagers, Ignite Youth had been a life changer, if not a life saver.
"They are happy to cry in front of each other. They hug each other. For many of them this is the first chance they've had to express their emotions and their fears," Mr Horan said.
"But it's hard work. They arrive here with very little drive, no hope, no aspirations, no purpose in their lives. They've been told all their lives that they aren't part of this community and there's nothing they can do about that, so there's no point trying.
"We show them that's not true, and they respond to it."
The prayer notes some had written were revealing. Many wrote that they needed help with drugs and/or alcohol, with depression and anger, with bullying at school and violence at home. One petition was especially touching, asking only that he not "get pulled out of school".
"Many of these kids have had a terrible start to life but they have a lot going for them, if we can show them how to reach it and nurture it," Mr Horan added.
"That's what we're doing here, and the positive way most of them respond makes all the hard work and emotion more worthwhile than anything else I have ever done."