Del and Mel Rameka – known far and wide throughout Northland as Mumma Del and Papa Mel – can't say how many youths they have helped in over 30 years.
"We've got no idea how many," says Mel. "But we can remember every single one of them and I've learnt they never forget you either; if you help them they'll remember you because so many get pushed aside and let down by adults."
The number is likely to be well into the hundreds. For almost 32 years the Kaikohe husband and wife team have volunteered most of their spare time and money giving, through sport, opportunities to young people they would not otherwise have had.
Every week in those years, they have loaded kids in to their cars and taken them all over the Far North to play basketball, softball and many other sports – and showered endless love and support to anyone who comes their way.
Their work has been recognised by the ASB who this week named them as recipients of the ASB Good as Gold Award. The bank has given them $10,000 to put towards a cruise holiday, and to celebrate Del's birthday next year.
"Sport is a great teacher," says ASB acting Northland regional manager Ngaire Angus. "It teaches perseverance, teamwork, patience and resilience among many other attributes, and we know there is a strong correlation between children who play sports growing up, having greater success in their adult lives.
"It would be impossible to measure the exact impact that Mel and Del have had on hundreds of children they have helped over the years, but supporting the next generation of New Zealanders is a big focus for ASB as well, and certainly something deserving of an ASB Good as Gold award," she says.
Kaikohe woman Suzee Ross who nominated the couple for the award says they are an inspiration to the town and the Far North community.
"They have a huge whanau – their own kids and everyone else's – and have so many hats that you cannot count them on two hands."
Yet but for the kindness shown to Mel many years ago by a man destined to be his future father-in-law, their community deeds may never have come to pass.
"I was going through tough times myself as a youth when Del's father took time out to help me and see what was troubling me," Mel says. "He saved my life. If it had not been for him I'd probably be dead now or in jail."
There was a serendipity in this for Mel – he met Del, fell in love and the couple eventually married. But it also inspired them to continue Del's parents' legacy: "They dedicated their lives to helping others, they were legends," says Mel.
Although Del's parents have now passed on, the Rameka's have continued their work – and then some. Literally providing a home for many, they coach, manage, fundraise, transport, provide equipment and generally look out for those others might call at-risk youths.
"We don't call them at-risk," says Del. "We call them special or gifted and use sport as a way to teach them things like leadership and good behaviour. There is a saying that a kid in sport is a kid out of court.
"Many of them grow up with no education and don't know how to get a job, and we like to get them before they get to the stage of getting in trouble. It doesn't have to be a whanau member who helps them, it can be anyone."
With three children of their own (they are aged 28, 25 and 17) and two granddaughters, Mel and Del says they love being around kids and creating opportunities for them to compete in local, national and international competitions.
They are involved in the administration of multiple sports organisations. One they formed themselves, Mid North United Sports, was last year awarded the Sport Northland Community Impact award.
The couple have regularly taken teams overseas and next year are planning to take 10 girls and 10 boys on a trip to compete in basketball and softball in the United States.
"We prefer being around them, it's what keeps us young," says Mel. "We do it for the love of our people, especially the young and what we get back is the look of joy on kids' faces when they succeed. You don't have to be told they're loving it, you can see it."
Both hold down regular jobs, Mel working in youth justice and Del managing Uma o te Kona, an organisation which helps nurture young people.
The couple is planning to put the ASB money towards a Caribbean cruise next year and to celebrate a "significant" birthday for Del: "We wanted to use the money on the kids, but we were told we had to spend it on ourselves," she says. "It'll be good to have that time because with everything we do we're lucky to have a day off every two months."
As their nominator Ross says: "They are very humble people who just get on with the business and never expect reward or thanks; they work tirelessly with not a dollar in their pocket as every spare cent goes towards others.
"They are called mumma and papa because they are 'life coaches' for our youth and are respected and entrusted with those roles within our community."