I’m Ruby Kate Chitsey. Some people know me as “the girl granting 3 wishes to nursing home seniors”. I want to tell you more about myself. I am 13 years old and live in a small town in Arkansas. I consider myself funny, laidback, unique and super kind! It’s not always easy being unique. I’m not athletic. I don’t dance, cheer, hunt or play sports. I often felt alone and left out. I have a skin condition, so I was teased a lot about my face. I decided a few years ago that I was kind and that kindness was my hobby.
Kindness is a hobby and I think of it like a superpower.
I’ve been doing kindness projects and community service projects since I was 9 years old. It has helped me believe in myself and overcome a lot. My project last summer was epic. Well, it became epic. I started a non-profit organization called “Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents”. The project and its mission warmed people’s hearts all over the world. We fulfill small wishes to nursing home seniors. We have fulfilled over 9000 wishes since 2019.
My project started out small. My mom works at nursing homes. While I was at work with her last summer, I saw a resident staring out the window for too long. I asked her what she was looking at. She told me she was watching her dog leave and she didn’t know if she would see it again. My family had lost a dog too – “Ziggy”. I could understand her pain because not seeing your pet is so sad. I asked my mom why this lady, Pearl, wouldn’t be able to keep her dog. I learned that Pearl received $40 a month to spend on herself.
I asked our Echo Alexa “What’s 40 divided by 30?” It’s $1.33. You can’t feed a dog with that or even pay someone else to take care of it for you. I was 10 and I couldn’t believe I had more money in my piggybank than Pearl had to her name. I asked my mom how many people were poor like Pearl? She looked it up in her work computer and showed me that 90% of the residents in this one nursing home received $40/month. It’s called a “Personal Needs Allowance” and it’s been $40 in the state of Arkansas for over 22 years. It is supposed to cover everything from new clothes, shoes, haircuts, phone and cable service and pet food!
I knew I had to do something. Pearl inspired me to do this project and I called it “Three Wishes”. I started by asking nursing home residents what 3 small items they needed. I got an old notebook and began to ask the residents:
“If I could bring you any three things, what would they be?”
I thought they might want money or cars. Their answers were simple like things you could go buy from Walmart. They asked for better fitting shoes, snacks, fresh food, chocolate bars, personal phones and pet food. One man even only asked for 1 thing – pants that fit. I showed my Mom the notebook at the end of the workday and she cried. I didn’t understand it as much as she did. All I know is that we left work, drove to a store and used our money to buy just about everything in that notebook.
I journaled with residents all summer and we bought all items with our own money. The project started small and I worked hard. I learned how expensive cell phone service was and that residents were choosing between paying for their cell phone or buying better shoes. I learned the residents were choosing to save money by skipping haircuts for months. The problem was much bigger and sadder than their pets. I also learned that there were 1.4 million nursing home residents in America and more than half of them were receiving the Personal Needs Allowance.
I started a national fundraiser and have raised over $300,000 for my cause. I started a nonprofit, Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents, and built a community center in my hometown to connect the young and the old. I started a Kid Board for my non-profit. I have amazing youth activists helping fulfill wishes for nursing home seniors from coast to coast.
My biggest reward so far from this experience is believing in myself and that would be my advice for kids out there who want to make a difference. I’m so grateful the world took my voice seriously. Kids can absolutely make a difference.
Use your voice and never think you are too small to make a difference. Also, make sure you see the people right in front of you like Pearl. Pearl was one person but when I looked closer, I saw that she was really the face of 1.4 million other nursing home seniors who just needed love.
This article first appeared in Edition 30.