I am sad to have finished up as a volunteer mentor at the Chronic Illness Peer Support (ChIPS) program at the Royal Children’s Hospital. But so very happy to have made a difference to so many young people’s lives.
Last night I returned from my last ChIPS camp as a mentor. After much consideration, I resigned from my role as a mentor, after almost three years. It was a difficult decision because I’ve loved being a mentor and value the program so much.
The young people belonging to ChIPS are amazing. They plan and deliver the program. They are articulate, so smart, passionate, driven, caring, constantly challenging themselves, not afraid to cry, and so very brave. They’re all between 12 and 25. They have instilled my faith in young people.
The ChIPS program helps them manage their chronic illnesses and also forget about them for a while. The illness are often varied, but are the commonality between the young people. They can all relate to each other’ experiences. And it’s so beautiful to see the friendships blossom, encouragement given and goals set by the young people.
I’ve given the young people a few opportunities to speak at my work for International Day of People with Disability and each of them have impressed my colleagues, including the most senior leaders, so much.
|This is my camp costume|
Though it’s fun throughout the year – attending meetings and socials, camps are the pinnacle of the ChIPS experience. There are about 45 young people and 15 passionate and dedicated medical and ChIPS staff and volunteers coming together to do activities – sometimes high challenge ones like rock climbing or high ropes, and others such as photography, archery, art, sports, and water activities. All challenging, all fun, all encouraging. To see the young people – some who are so physically and mentally challenged, getting amongst it and having a go, is an emotional experience. Their leadership and inclusivity is amazing. If you ever think you can’t do something, or that you are too ‘unwell’ to have a go, please think of the Chippers and what they can do.
Yesterday I cried from about 11.00 am until I don’t know when. Tears of sadness and also happiness. I feel so privileged to have been a part of ChIPS and to have come to know the young people better and worked with them to overcome their adversities. And although I was aware that I was helping them, I was never aware it what extent. I never knew that just being there and talking to people could mean the world to them. It’s the little things.
One of the young people, about 20, is so very quiet and shy. He’s big, masculine and not very confident. But he’s so kind hearted. He came to me yesterday morning to tell me how much he will miss me. He said I was the first person to make him feel important and special, and that I’ve changed his life. I’m the reason why his confidence has increased. He said words can’t describe what I mean to him and that he and the other young people love me so much. Wow.
There was a presentation of awards and they farewelled me during it. One young person made a little speech about the time I was concerned about his broken foot on camp in January 2009.
He was walking down the corridor, looking worn out and red. I asked him if he was ok and added ‘you’re a bit red’.
‘Hypocrite!’, he exclaimed!
Funniest. Moment. Ever. We laughed and laughed at that moment, and continue to today.
I paid him back this camp: he and I went to the kitchen to get milk for supper. As he reached in the fridge to get the milk, I put on his Woody from Toy Story mask, and when he turned around, he jumped so much! Very funny!
I have so many special memories.
During one activity, some Chippers told me, silently, that I’ve inspired them, helped them out and changed their lives. I can’t explain how it feels to know this. Being a mentor in ChIPS at a relatively young age has given me the experience I didn’t have as a member of ChIPS. In everything I do at ChIPS, I try to show the young people that my own illness hasn’t stopped me from achieving my goals. And I also try and impart my positive and realistic outlook.
At the end of camp, we all received ‘warm fuzzies’ – books of gratitude from each other. This was one of the messages I received:
Carly, you are very inspirational. I’ve realised now, that when I used to go to the Children’s, I used to stare at people. But on this camp, I’ve learned that it’s not about our illnesses, but it’s about the person underneath. And you have taught me that. Thank you Carly.
And that sums everything up perfectly. I have no more words. Just happiness I’ve made a difference, and sadness I’m leaving. I want to continue to help out with ChIPS. I can’t explain the feeling of being with these young people. It’s a wonderful program and these amazing young people will forever be in my heart.
If you want more information on ChIPS, visit www.rch.org.au/chips