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Dedicated Belvedere volunteer is encouraging others to help

PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 June 2014

Albert Akoto who is a volunteer for Smiley Ark with some of the youngsters at the centre Valerie Ikonagbon, 14, Lorenzo Johnson, 9, Katie Hutison, 11, Bianca Azimi, 13, Theon Ikpefuran, 11, Blessing Olusegun, 14, and Kerema Bailey, 4. Picture by: www.matthewwalkerphotography.com

Albert Akoto who is a volunteer for Smiley Ark with some of the youngsters at the centre Valerie Ikonagbon, 14, Lorenzo Johnson, 9, Katie Hutison, 11, Bianca Azimi, 13, Theon Ikpefuran, 11, Blessing Olusegun, 14, and Kerema Bailey, 4. Picture by: www.matthewwalkerphotography.com

www.matthewwalkerphotography.com

Albert Akoto, 21, balances working at JD Sports in Broadway Shopping Centre, Bexleyheath, with helping out at community children’s club Smiley Ark at Belvedere Baptist Church.

Smiley Ark works with deprived children and runs breakfast, after-school and holiday clubs for children aged three to 11, as well as running a youth club for 11 to 19-year-olds.

Albert helps with the after- school group, which meets every week day from 3.30pm to 6pm, and the youth club.

He carried out a degree in Police Studies at Canterbury Christchurch University and volunteered with local youth organisation Step Ahead Support and Kent Police during his time as a student.

He said: “I chose Police Studies because I have dreamed of becoming a police officer, perhaps working with young offenders, since I was in my teens.

“After I left Canterbury I really missed my voluntary work and, luckily, Susan Ikpefuran, who runs Smiley Ark, and who has known me since I was a child, suggested I try volunteering for the club.

“I first went along there to give it a try last October and I’ve been there ever since.

“I spend as much time there as I can because I enjoy it so much. In fact, when I’m not at JD Sports that’s where you’ll always find me.”

He added: “It’s all really good fun and I’m going to help out at the club for as long as I can, even if I eventually get into the police force. I just can’t imagine not doing it.

“I’ve met some great kids, great parents and great volunteers at Smiley Ark and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a volunteering opportunity and has a few hours a week to spare.”

Smiley Ark founder Susan said: “I started the club 10 years ago because there was nothing else in the area, which has pockets of deprivation, and it’s been very successful.

“We now have about 100 young people in the various groups and they are looked after by seven staff members and seven volunteers.

“In this, our tenth anniversary year, we are looking for more volunteers to help us do even more with the children.

“Albert has been an invaluable part of the volunteer team and I’d like to have many more like him.

“He’s been such an inspiration to our young people, so helpful and a real mentor.”

She added: “We’re looking for people of any age who are able to do at least two hours a week. They’ll receive full basic training and will have the chance to get extra training in child care if they wish.

“We have a volunteers’ registration evening on our 10th anniversary celebration day which is at our base from 4pm on Thursday, July 10 when anyone in the community who is interested can come along and get the full details and have some fun.”

Smiley Ark member Blessing Olusegun, 14, of Belvedere, said: “I love the club because it’s a great place to go to build your confidence and develop skills in different areas of your life.

“Albert is a very helpful and encouraging person and makes everything go very smoothly.”

For more details about Smiley Ark call Susan on 07956 263531 or by email kids@smileyark.com.

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