Making Memories… Giving Hope

Shantelle recalls her life-changing CHICKS breaks


Shantelle-Marie Swabey attended eight consecutive CHICKS breaks as a child, and claims that she "wouldn't be who and where she is today" without those experiences. Now aged 22, Plymouth-based Shantelle is trying to raise awareness and funds for CHICKS to enable more young people to have those same opportunities she enjoyed.

In September 2005, at the age of 8, Shantelle attended her first CHICKS break at the CHICKS Coastal Retreat in Cornwall. She later returned every year until she was 15, ending with her final break at our Moorland Retreat in Devon in April 2012. She enjoyed her time at CHICKS so much, she even kept a folder of memories from every single year!

Shantelle recently took on a challenge to raise money and awareness for CHICKS, inviting shoppers in Plymouth City Centre to cut her hair off in return for donations. Speaking to local news website PlymouthLive, she explained that "I had an idea that maybe more people would be willing to donate if they were able to get involved." Her fundraising challenge raised over £250 for CHICKS, as well as vital awareness!

Shantelle in Plymouth City Centre waiting to get her hair cut
Shantelle in Plymouth City Centre waiting to get her hair cut

We recently spoke to Shantelle about her time at CHICKS.

What do you remember about coming to CHICKS as a child?

There are so many small things that I remember about CHICKS – things that other people may overlook. Small things like getting on the bus on my first CHICKS break feeling absolutely terrified, but then being welcomed by a giant smiley face of the person driving.

I remember on my first break there was a volunteer called Steve. I walked in the door and he was there. He could clearly see how scared I was, so he picked up a teddy and asked if we could be friends. He then asked me to look after this teddy for the week; I had to take good care, because it was his special teddy. This gave me such a warm feeling, that somebody wanted to be my friend and trusted me with this toy.

I remember being asked "Are you okay, Shantelle?", instead of just hearing "Shantelle will be okay." That was a big thing for me – people actually having an interest in how I was; taking the time out of their day to check that I was okay.

I remember the first time I saw a horse. I thought I was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen! But I thought I'd never be able to ride one, because they were so big, then they came out with a little pony. I remember its name was Bug. I was so used to never being able to get involved because of my health or my height, but this time I was just like everybody else. There was no reason for me not to join in.

I also remember every night there would be a couple of volunteers who would sit by the door of the bedroom and read a bedtime story. I'd never had this before. They would sit there until all of the children had fallen asleep.

Finally, I remember my final break seven years later. I got on to the bus, just like I did every other year, but this time it was different. There was a girl on the bus. This was her first break and she looked terrified – she had that same look I did seven years ago. I used my experience to soothe her. We then get off the bus to see a familiar face. It was Steve again! He recognised me and it was a great feeling. It was lovely to show him what I’d become from the help of his words, as well as those of the other staff.

Shantelle on a CHICKS break in 2005 riding a horse
Shantelle riding a horse for the first time on her first CHICKS break in 2005

What difference do you think your CHICKS breaks made to your life?

My CHICKS breaks made me realise that I mattered more than I realised. They helped me to find out who I was and what my interests were. They helped me to experience things that I’d never have had the chance to experience otherwise. My CHICKS breaks helped me create some incredible friendships with people who I’d ever thought I’d have the confidence to talk to. Staff on my CHICKS breaks made me believe in myself more than I ever thought I would. Without this, I know I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am today.

Why do you think it’s important for CHICKS services to be available for children growing up today?

I think it’s important because as the years go by, the world is turning into a dark and violent place. Children are needing to grow up quicker than they should. CHICKS breaks give children a chance to actually be children. It gives children a space where they can feel safe – where they don’t need to worry about what’s going on around them.

So many children are growing up in environments that make them feel alone. CHICKS gives them somewhere to go to spend time with other children who have similar feelings and thoughts. It gives them a chance to talk about it, and by the end of the week they realise they aren’t alone after all.

Why did you choose to shave your head for CHICKS, and did you have any other fundraising ideas that you decided against?

The reason I decided to shave my hair off for CHICKS is because on my last break, I was told that I’d be great as a volunteer. So I told myself I’d come back as a volunteer, however since then I’ve had my own child so I’m unable to do that.

I still really wanted to do something for CHICKS, for all of the time and effort they put into the breaks I was on to make them some of the most amazing experiences of my life. This is my way of showing them that I remember and will always appreciate what they’ve done for me, as well as every other child they’ve helped.

Shantelle before and after shaving her head for CHICKS
Shantelle before and after shaving her head for CHICKS

What difference do you hope to make by raising funds for CHICKS?

I hope that by raising money for CHICKS I’ve been able to give back just a little bit in return for what they did for me. If the money I raised helps pay for even one child to go on a CHICKS break, then it will be completely worth it. I’m hoping that it will also raise awareness of the charity, so  that more people could give, or maybe even refer a child who they feel could really do with the break.

What would you say to encourage people to donate?

The world is turning into a dark place. CHICKS is somewhere that children can go to get the help and support they need, as well as a chance to be a child again.

So many people take for granted the things that they have. If everybody was to have one less coffee at work or sneak one less chocolate bar and donate the money to CHICKS, then that small difference to you could make a huge difference to a child's life.

We would like to extend a huge thank you to Shantelle for taking on such a major challenge for CHICKS! If you would like to help us raise money and awareness to provide breaks for more young people, please contact us.

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