Standing tall and proud
Aurora Amani would probably still be "that shy girl in the corner" if it wasn't for the StandTall programme.
She was introduced to the initiative in year 7 as a quiet, introverted 11-year-old.
Just two years later she was named its Leader of the Year for 2011 and graduated as dux from Manurewa's Randwick Park School.
It's a transformation the now 14-year-old credits largely to StandTall.
"I came into the programme as a shy girl who kept to herself but StandTall helped me to come out of my comfort zone and be more confident," she says.
"If I hadn't done the programme I'd probably not be social and still keep to myself."
Aurora is one of more than 140 young people from seven South Auckland schools who have benefited from the StandTall programme since it began in 2009.
And registered runners in this year's Ports of Auckland Round the Bays fun run and walk will be helping it spread its message to even more young people.
The Choice Foundation, which delivers the programme, is one of six charities that will benefit from proceeds raised at the annual event.
The foundation is set to get $20,000 which will help take the initiative to some of the 15 schools on its waiting list.
That's great news for general manager Carl Sunderland. He says the programme makes a "massive" difference to young people's confidence in their abilities.
"We teach them over the two years so they know what opportunities are out there but the thing they get from the programme is they realise that these opportunities are for them and they can do it," Mr Sunderland says. "These are things that were pie in the sky before but now these are things that are for them too."
StandTall targets intermediate-age children and aims to increase their opportunities and grow their potential. It includes workshops, community projects and career expos, as well as trips to tertiary institutions and a five-night camp.
The programme is unique in that it is the only one for "good kids" at low-decile schools, rewarding young people who have the right attitude and the motivation to succeed, Mr Sunderland says.
The 2012 Leader of the Year, Teisa Semisi, says StandTall helped her develop new skills and choose a future career path in public speaking.
Like Aurora, the 13-year-old began the programme lacking the confidence to speak in front of a crowd.
Two years later she beat hundreds of contestants from around the region to win the Auckland Primary Principals Association speech competition.
"I don't think I'd have the knowledge of what I want to be and what can help me without the programme," she says.
And 2010 StandTall Leader of the Year Linda Su'a, from Mangere, says the programme was a key factor in her winning Robertson Road School's literacy award.
"We had to do a lot of journal work and it taught me to work hard and put all of my effort into it," she says.