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17th February is Care Day and VOYPIC are leading the celebrations

17 February 2017

VOYPIC are calling on individuals, communities, government departments and key organisations from the statutory, voluntary, community and private sectors to LOOK, ACT, CARE on Friday 17 February.

Volunteer Story – Darren Smith

Darren is 24 years old and whilst he now lives in Banbridge he originally comes from Belfast. 

When Darren was 13 years old he started volunteering with TACT Wildlife Sanctuary along with his big brother.  TACT was a ‘proper’ wildlife centre and provided a great introduction to volunteering as Darren got to not only clean out pens but also to care for and get to know the animals.  However, after about 18 months the cold weather ended his volunteering journey and he looked for something indoors and a little warmer!

Darren was involved with VOYPIC as a member when he was about 12 but was then reintroduced to them when he was 15.  Through VOYPIC he learned how to cook, budget and other life skills.  When Darren was 16 he was asked to join the Young Reps Group within VOYPIC which involved consulting with other young people, listening to their views and organising conferences.  Through the ‘5 Nations – 1 Voice’ initiative Darren was  one of the NI representatives with a focus on the change policy and addressing the stigma facing young people in care.  Darren has spoken in Stormont and in London on the key areas.

You wouldn’t know it now but Darren was a shy young man, lacking in self confidence and self-esteem.  However, through Working Together for Change (a VOYPIC programme) Darren undertook self-confidence modules, diversity, presentation, powerpoint, child protection training and research methods.  Through this programme Darren got the opportunity to make presentations to a group of young Bulgarians and the entire experience made him more confident speaking to people and now ‘I’m the first to talk!’ As a result Darren was heavily involved in VOYPIC’s 21st birthday and even spoke at it!

Darren’s volunteering has made him realise that he wanted to be a youth worker.  “I initially thought that I wanted to be an electrical engineer and worked with a company for 6 months but realised that I enjoyed my engagement with young people more so I changed my career path”.  Darren has undertaken a Level 2 in Youth Work, BTEC in Multi-Media, Level 2 in Health and Social Care, Level 2 in Law and Order and has gained all essential skills qualifications.

Through the Wider Horizons programme Darren undertook a BTEC in a Multi-Media course and a result got to travel to Spain to make a horror movie!  It was a brilliant experience.  Darren has also worked with Fixers focussing on the topic of the stigmatisation of young people in care.  The videos (along with others) are on youtube for people to see.

Darren has now undertaken an internship with VOYPIC as a Youth Engagement Advisor. He is supporting the organisationto develop and build relationships with civic leaders, decision makers, key agencies, government departments, councillors and assembly members and children in care.  He is also involved in peer research with QUB on the topic: You Only Leave Once focussing on young people leaving care with mental health and learning disabilities or both.  Looking at the transition process and the support provided as well as the needs in relation to the services. 

Darren is currently involved in organising Care Day 2017.Care Day is held yearly, VOYPIC want Care Day to increase awareness of care and build a supportive care community. The focus is on children and young people and how they inspire with their potential. VOYPIC’s theme for Care Day is LOOK, ACT, CARE.

Darren explains that ‘we want individuals, communities, key organisations to LOOK, ACT, CARE for children in care and care leavers’. 

“VOYPIC is a brilliant organisation to volunteer for.  They are really supportive and easy to get on with”.  Darren is hoping that his volunteering journey, the skills that he has learned and the experiences gained will bring him closer to a place within University of Ulster‘s Youth Work degree.

Darren would encourage everyone to volunteer.  “Volunteering has given me so much over the last ten years or so.  Friendships, skills, experiences and fun are just some of the things that I have gained through my volunteering!  Its brilliant but find an organisation that you believe in, who will listen to you and give you opportunities that enable you to grow and give something back to them too.”

Darren achieved his MV 200 Hour Award of Excellence away back in 2014 and has now lost count of the hours given – “it doesn’t matter because I love it!”


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