By Mikaela Collins
This week is 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 the Northern Advocate will be profiling young people from around the region who are doing incredible things.
Today we share Rawhiti Erstich Coles' story.
When Rawhiti Erstich Coles was around 14 years old he decided he wanted to say yes to everything.
He needed a way to get out of Ōhaeawai and really wanted to involve himself in whatever opportunities he could.
"Growing up I didn't get too many chances to get out of the house.
"I guess something clicked in my brain around 14 or 15 that I just wanted to do things. I just decided I wanted to say yes to everything. Sometimes you say no to random things and I was like how about I just do everything and see how that works out?"
It's worked out pretty well for the 18-year-old who is now studying law at the University of Auckland, and is the Youth Parliament representative for Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis.
One of the earliest opportunities the former Ōkaihau College student said yes to was being part of the inaugural Far North Youth Council in 2016 when he was 15.
While Erstich Coles applied because he had decided to say yes to everything, he also believed that because of his background he could help other young people.
"I wasn't really the richest or any of that. Those things always make you want to contribute in some way. When you don't have the opportunity to contribute and you get to a point when you finally can - there's a power in being able to give."
Erstich Coles remained on the Youth Council for three years as chairman of the Kaikohe-Hokianga ward and said it created many opportunities for him - including a trip to Italy.
He would attend any meeting involving youth in Northland and one of those was with Far North Future Leaders event in Whangārei. He wasn't part of the group but went to contribute to the discussion and have a look.
"Me and my friend ended up talking quite a lot and had quite a few patai (questions) to add. I guess some people were impressed so after that I got an email and was asked if I wanted to come on this haerenga (trip) to Italy. I was like 'um yes? Is this a scam first, do you want one of my kidneys'?"
So in April last year Erstich Coles travelled to Italy for a trip focused on ngā taonga tākaro - traditional Māori games.
While overseas he also took the opportunity to visit Croatia. His grandfather was Croatian and it was a dream of his to go back there but he never got to.
"It was quite emotional because of the connection to my grandfather. We got there and I didn't expect much, I just wanted to feel at peace."
Erstich-Coles was also part of the Hawea Vercoe Leadership Programme established by The Moko Foundation.
"That opportunity stands out for me because I got quite a lot out of that. I was exposed to people in spaces I wouldn't be exposed to otherwise. I went to the Māori Business Awards. I met the prime minister of the time, Bill English, and we got to speak to him for a few hours."
Erstich Coles is now studying law at the University of Auckland.
He said putting himself out there has been crucial.
"You've got to embarrass yourself. I've embarrassed myself countless times in front of countless people. There was one lady who said to me in order to be successful you've got to be shameless, you've got to do things you wouldn't necessarily do."