At just 15 years of age, Jessica Collins was already on the youth benefit and had moved out of home. Her only goals in life were to make it to her 18th birthday and not be barefoot and pregnant.

Now, aged 19, Collins is studying arts and Maori at Massey University and "enjoying life," all thanks to the Project K programme run by the Graeme Dingle Foundation.

"I honestly with my whole heart don't think I would be alive today if it wasn't for Project K. Project K saved me," Collins said.

Tonight she will be awarded the Sir Edmund Hillary Youth Achievement Award in the 2017 Graeme Dingle Foundation Excellence Awards.


Collins is among 15 young Kiwis who are being honoured for their accomplishments, often in the face of adversity.

"Our goal is to transform young lives forever, with a vision that all young people can be confident contributors to New Zealand," Sir Graeme Dingle said.

"The awards highlight not only some of the circumstances and harsh realities a lot of our Kiwi kids face, but most importantly celebrates their courage and resilience to be able to come out the other side too."

The awards night celebrates the efforts of more than 24,000 students in the foundation's various youth development programmes including Kiwi Can, Stars, Career Navigator and Project K.

Sir Edmund Hillary Youth Achievement Award
For a Project K graduate who has gone on to achieve excellence

Jessica Collins - Former Otumoetai College, Bay of Plenty
Outstanding Kiwi Can School Award
Manurewa West Primary, Auckland
Kaeo School, Whangaroa
Kiwi Can Outstanding Leader Team Award
Raynard Haggie & Andrea Thomas, Huntly West School
Outstanding Contribution from a Stars Peer Mentor Awards
Haydon Dickie, Hornby High School, Canterbury
Lahaina Solomon, Tokoroa High School, Waikato
Career Navigator Outstanding Achievement Award
Kaha Head, Fraser High School, Hamilton
Project K Excellence Awards
Yashveer Kumar, One Tree Hill College, Auckland
Kaylen Engu Key, Tangaroa College, Auckland
Ofa Lavemaau, Northcote College, Auckland
Amie Marchant, Otumoetai College, Bay of Plenty
Carta Buckley, Mt Maunganui College, Bay of Plenty
Sorcha Stempa, Sacred Heart College, Wellington
Emma Jeffery, Hornby High School, Canterbury
Outstanding Volunteer Award
Byran Theunisen, Project K Mentor, Auckland