Today is the start of youth week - eight days of celebrating New Zealand's young people.

At the time of the 2013 census there were 16,683 15 to 24-year-olds living in Northland.

While it can be easy to focus on the negative when it comes to youth in the region, there is plenty to celebrate.

Throughout Youth Week Mikaela Collins will be profiling young people from around the region who are doing incredible things.

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Today is Anahera Pickering's story

Anahera Pickering says you wouldn't have recognised her two years ago.

She was 18 years old, sleeping on the streets of Whangārei, and she didn't have a vision.

It seems a world away from the confident 20-year-old who sat down to speak with the Northern Advocate about her work with the Electoral Commission, the various leadership programmes she has been involved with, and the opportunities she has jumped at.

"I'm crazy busy in life really," she said.

"I never expected myself to be doing something like this compared to the transformation I've had over the past two years. You wouldn't recognise me two years ago."

Anahera Pickering was homeless at 18 but it is now a leader and mentor for youth.

Pickering was brought up in Whangārei but moved to Australia to live with her mum when she was 8.

She moved back to Whangārei in 2013 at age 15 and attended Whangārei Girls' High School.

She said moving home opened her eyes to issues like gang culture and drugs.

I became friends with people who had a tough childhood with family members who were involved in gangs. Me not being brought up in anything like that, to go into worlds where my friends were dealing with those issues actually put a lot of weight on me.

In October 2016, Shortly after Pickering's 18th birthday, she became homeless.

She said her niece - who was 21 at the time - was homeless and couldn't live with Pickering because the family did not approve, so Pickering chose to be homeless so her niece wasn't alone.

"We ended up meeting some other people so for part of it there was about seven of us homeless people."

Pickering said when it was just herself and her niece it was "really hard".

"It was to the point where one of us would let the other sleep while one stayed up at night. But once we became a group you felt a lot safer because you knew there was a few of you to be alert if anything happened," she said.

She was homeless for about five months and one day her former caregiver's daughter saw Pickering and offered her a place to stay.

Anahera Pickering, encouraging youth to vote during her first year as a youth advocate for the Electoral Commission. Photo / John Stone
Anahera Pickering, encouraging youth to vote during her first year as a youth advocate for the Electoral Commission. Photo / John Stone

Not long after, Pickering was walking through town and saw an Electoral Commission tent. She went to have a look because she wanted the yo-yos and other free goods.

Pickering asked a lot of questions and was encouraged to hand in a CV.

She went to Whangārei Youth Space to help put one together, sent it in, had an interview, and started as a youth advocate for the Electoral Commission - a role piloted to get youth involved in the election.

"Life got good real quick ... That was my first ever proper job."

Pickering is still working for the Electoral Commission as an electoral administrative assistant and community liaison.

She has also been mentoring at Whangārei Youth Space and is involved with Whangārei Future Leaders - a programme which supports young people to make a difference.

Last year, as a future leader, she was a panellist alongside Housing Minister Phil Twyford at Festival for the Future - an event filled with inspiring speakers, panels, workshops and more.

Anahera Pickering and Amy Barclay at the Chalk the Talk event last year. Photo / John Stone
Anahera Pickering and Amy Barclay at the Chalk the Talk event last year. Photo / John Stone

This year she is a coach for Whangārei Future Leaders.

"When I was 18 I didn't have a vision, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I didn't know how to apply for jobs, or how to write a CV or anything like that.

"Now I am very confident in what I want to do ... I want to do a lot of things," she said.

Pickering said although being homeless was hard, she wouldn't take it back.

"You appreciate little things - you want to bake and you want to do the dishes. It even made me treat people better."

Her advice to other Northland youth?

"It all depends on you. You can move mountains if you want to."