Celebrating 30 years of ChIPS

Article from 2022/2023 Impact of Giving Annual Report

For three decades, the Chronic Illness Peer Support (ChIPS) program at the RCH has been a beacon of hope for young people aged 12 to 25 living with chronic illnesses. The ChIPS story doesn’t just encapsulate the program’s growth and longevity; it also shows the difference it has made in the lives of young people with chronic illnesses.

ChIPS was born out of a vision to provide a support system for young people who were navigating the complex and often isolating world of chronic illness.

“Thirty years ago, the idea of ChIPS came about because it was witnessed on the wards that the young people with chronic illness who were regular patients of the hospital were actually building friendships,” Harry Brown, ChIPS Program Manager shared.

“Over the thirty years, the core of the program has been asking young people what they want. So, everything that has changed and developed has happened organically because we’ve always asked young people what they wanted.”

One of the most significant milestones in the ChIPS program took place in the early 2000s when the idea to organise the first ChIPS camp emerged.

“Some of the ‘ChIPPERS’ said they wanted to have a camp, because they wouldn’t normally get to go on school camps. The staff were a bit taken aback at the time, so they said, ‘If you can raise $5,000, you can have a camp,’ and I’m told they chose a number that they thought could never be raised.

“But it was – they went out with the support of their families and fundraised $5,000 and went back to the staff and said, ‘When are we going on camp?’. There’s been an annual camp ever since then,” Harry recalled.

Another pivotal moment in the ChIPS program’s history occurred in 2014 when it began receiving support from the RCH Foundation.

“Prior to the support of the RCH Foundation, funding for ChIPS was achieved through small grants and lots of
volunteer support. They were really struggling at the time to keep the program going.

“When the RCH Foundation said they were going to support the program, it changed the whole mindset of how we went about things. Knowing that we could keep growing and implementing things was great,” said Harry.

“With the support of the RCH Foundation, we’ve been able to look at our calendar year and say we can run all of these events. I had a conversation with a young person, and he was never able to perform in a school musical, but he loves the performing arts.

“So, he wanted to run a musical production and we’re able to say ‘Yes, let’s do it!’. Without that funding and support, we wouldn’t have been able to say yes.”

Reflecting on the ChIPS program’s incredible journey, Harry shared: “When people from other hospitals across the world hear about the ChIPS program, they say, ‘How have you managed to do that?’.”

“The program is such a simple idea when you think about it: here’s a bunch of young people supporting each other, let’s put them into a program and see what happens. I wish the supporters of the program could meet some of the young people and hear from them and their families what this has meant for them, because it’s genuinely life changing.”

The longevity of ChIPS is not just measured in numbers but in the countless stories of resilience, hope and transformation.

“A particular story that stands out to me is a young person who said she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for ChIPS. When she first joined the program, she was in a very dark place. And now, she’s finished her degree and is just killing it,” Harry shared.

As the ChIPS program continues to go from strength to strength, its future is full of possibility.

“Thirty years ago, they said, ‘Let’s listen to the young people and what they want, and we’ll do what we can to make that happen!’. And that’s still what we’re doing now, so as long as we remember that we can’t go wrong,” said Harry.

“I want to say a massive thank you to all the ChIPS supporters! It’s hard to capture in words what ChIPS means to the young people that have been in the program.”