Six reasons to volunteer with CHICKS children's charity
This week I volunteered with CHICKS, a charity providing free respite breaks to disadvantaged children from all over the UK. The children on break have come from a variety of backgrounds - they may be living in poverty, young carers, victims of bullying or abuse or those who have suffered a bereavement.
I had an epic week living on the former farmhouse day and night alongside four other volunteers and so this week my video and blog is to get you thinking about why you might want to do the same.
1) When you volunteer with children you never know what to expect
Our group this week was made up of 8-11 year olds and complete mixture of backgrounds and personalities. During meal times and minibus trips I was frequently reduced to fits of giggles by the conversations and the games we played including 'consequences', ‘grannys knickers’ and 'two truths and a lie'!
I found that in just a few days the children's confidence really grew. CHICKS fosters a culture of respect and praise for one another and it was fantastic to see the children giving such positive encouragement to one another during activities. As the week went on each child became much more open and talkative. In some cases you might find that a child decides open up to you about an issue that others may have been trying to get them to talk about for years. Your role as a volunteer may at times be to provide that listening ear and to support the three fully trained respite break leaders.
2) You will learn to appreciate things in life
On the drive up to the Moorland retreat in Dartmoor one young boy asked me why the gardens were so big and where all the houses were. I had to explain that we were in the countryside and those were fields where farmers grew crops. It was an incredibly poignant question and it struck me just how sheltered some of these children are and caused me to reflect more on my own upbringing.
CHICKS also aims to show children that having fun doesn't have to cost much and it was amazing how much fun we were able to have making masks from paper plates and playing board games like KerPlunk!
3) You will try amazing things while volunteering
Children try new things every day but as adults we often get a little stuck in our ways, our comfort zones get smaller and that feeling of invincibility we had as a child has waned. This week at CHICKS we went gorge walking, horse riding and I tried rock climbing for the first time. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive beforehand but I have learnt that volunteering with children is not about being good it is about doing good and setting an example by approaching new things with an open mind and trusting in yourself.
Some of the children were similarly wary of heights and others struggled to physically scramble on the boulders but giving those children encouragement and support in those moments of uncertainty can make all the difference. To see the children’s faces as they reached the top of the wall and waved down at you proudly from the boulder, having conquered their fears was an incredibly rewarding experience.
4) You will laugh… A LOT
From face painting to cake baking to trampolining to air hockey to benchball to wink murder to horse riding, swimming and rock climbing, the CHICKS children are such characters that I found my stomach literally ached from so much laughing during my week.
5) You will be part of memories that last a lifetime
Our swimming trip for me was one of the highlights of the week. Taking 14 excitable children of mixed abilities to a pool sounds like a hectic experience but the CHICKS respite break leaders are dab hands at organising the troops. As I helped blow up the children’s arm bands, I learnt that one or two had never been in the water before. We began splashing around in the shallow pool together playing crocodiles in order to build up confidence. Before long two or three were eager to join the others in the big pool and try swimming properly. It was an incredible privilege to help teach a young boy how to doggy paddle for the first time, assuring him I was there to not let him sink as he paddled along. To watch him later proudly telling the other children what he had done, is a memory I will treasure.
6) You will never forget the children you meet
On our final night we reflected on the week as a group, indeed as we had done every evening before bed. We sat in a circle and took it in turns to talk about our ‘best bit of the day’ and who our ‘star of the day’ had been. It was heartening to hear comments like “I wish I could play here forever” and “my best bit of the week has been waking up every morning and being surrounded by friends and adults to talk to”. It made me realise just how much this break had meant to the children. One young boy, Ryan*, said tearily “each minute that I’ve been here I’ve felt more confident and my star of the week is Roy (one of the volunteers) because he made me feel like I had a family here”. There was scarcely a dry eye in the house.
From the polite and thoughtful young boy who volunteered to collect the cups each mealtime and gave us all a hug goodnight, to my chocoholic breakfast companions, to the minibus top trumpers, to my trampolining champions - there are children I met at CHICKS who I will never forget.
The sad truth is that for some children on these camps there may be very few positive responsible adult role models in their lives and you really are in such a privileged position to provide hope by giving these children a sense of care, understanding and fun.
How to volunteer
CHICKS does incredible work making positive memories for the children who pass through their retreats. If you are thinking of giving some of your time this year to volunteer for charity, I would throughly recommend you do a CHICKS break.
You can find our more info on volunteering here.