By Suzanne Rhodes
Photo courtesy Wayne Rhodes
Ruby Kate Chitsey started a movement that’s taken the world by storm—or you could say, by heart. It’s called Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents. The amazing 11-year-old girl from Harrison, Arkansas wants to do good, and she’s raised nearly $250,000 through her GoFundMe campaign and charity Facebook page to bring hope, joy and practical help to low-income residents in nursing homes.
Ruby’s mom, Amanda, is a nurse practitioner who works in five nursing homes in and around Harrison, and Ruby often goes with her on weekends. Many of the elderly residents in those facilities don’t have any family or visitors. They can live in those homes because of a government program called Medicaid that provides meals and basic care, but only $40 a month for anything else. Forty dollars isn’t very much money if you need a haircut or a cell phone or fresh fruit or someone to bring your pet in for a visit.
That’s where Ruby stepped in. She noticed a patient named Pearl staring out the exit doors at a dog being led on a leash by a woman to a car in the parking lot. Ruby asked her about it, and Pearl said it was her dog that she’d had for some 12 years. The lady had brought the dog for a visit, and Pearl watched her, not knowing when she’d ever see her pet again. “Pearl’s face was so sad,” Ruby explained in her GoFundMe. “I thought of all the things in this world Pearl could have, she would probably just ask for more visits with her dog. I know it costs $12 for a pet sitter visit. I’m 11, and I have enough money saved in my piggy bank to get Pearl a few visits with her dog.”
And that’s how “Three Wishes” began. Ruby started going around to the different residents to ask, “If you could have any three things, what would you want?” Ruby was surprised at their answers. “I thought people would say money, houses, a Lamborghini,” she told CBS News, but instead they wanted simple things like strawberries, pants that fit, Cheetos, a phone.
Ruby and her mom have used the donated funds to buy everything from pillows to books to Happy Meals. Businesses have jumped on board too, providing cheese and Vienna sausage (a favorite among the residents!), lap blankets, and many other gifts.
“It’s rewarding to see their reactions,” Ruby said. “They’re very happy and excited, and it lifts their day.” Ruby mentioned an elderly resident named Shannon who’d had a stroke. “It’s hard for her to talk. We gave her an electric wheelchair. At first she said, ‘I’m not going to be able to drive this.’ A week later we saw her—she was just amazing at it. She was zipping up and down the hall.”
The fifth-grader’s heart-warming story has attracted media from all over the world. She’s gotten news coverage in India, Iceland, New Zealand, Vietnam, Romania, Bulgaria and many other countries. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has featured her twice. Steve Hartman, host of the popular CBS show “On the Road,” traveled to Harrison so he could follow Ruby to a nursing home. “With 44 million views, it’s his most popular video to date,” Amanda said. She’s been on Good Morning America, ABC News, CNN and Chicago’s WGN-radio.
“She’s always had a strong desire to help others,” her mom said. “In many ways, she’s a very normal 11-year-old. But when it comes to her service for others, that’s just her thing. We’ve said for many years that kindness is her hobby.”
That kindness brought her recognition as GoFundMe’s Kid Hero of the month, and both CNN’s and Fox News’ Kid Hero award. She also won a local Jefferson Award, given to “people in our community who do incredible acts of kindness and don’t act for recognition,” according to CBS news anchor Heather Lewis. Harrison’s mayor, Jerry Jackson, proclaimed March 28,2019 as Ruby Kate Chitsey Day, saying, “We’re so proud to have this compassionate young girl in our community making a big difference at such a young age to the elderly in our city.”
You might think all this attention would go to Ruby’s head, but her focus is on her elderly friends. She told her mother, “They’re my oxygen.” She admitted that “sometimes I get really stressed, but other times I’m ready for it. And I’m just so grateful.”
“Ruby has always been different,” Amanda explained. “She’s always been gifted when it comes to emotions and noticing nonverbal cues of distress—more than most people. It’s both a blessing and a curse. She wished for a long time that she was more like other kids, tougher and more resilient—for lack of a better word, meaner, that things didn’t get to her.”
Amanda and her husband attempted to find a hobby their daughter would enjoy and that would help her feel valued. “She’s not really athletic. She doesn’t dance, she doesn’t do pageantry. We tried every single hobby imaginable. None of them appealed to her. When it came to volunteering, that is her thing,” Amanda said.
“I told her that it’s a gift, that she can see what other people are going through. She’s seen that through this project, she can help people and what she has is a super power. She’s gone from being shy and insecure, where all these little words at school would hurt her, to being bullet-proof and very self-confident. This project has really changed her as a person.”
And now Ruby Kate’s project is more than her own compassionate wish come true. Three Wishes for Ruby Kate officially became a nonprofit organization in February, which means it’s tax exempt and can receive donations through Amazon Smile. It also can expand nationally and form chapters in other states so volunteers all over America can grant wishes to residents in nursing homes who need extra doses of tender loving care.
Ruby has a message to kids everywhere: “Don’t let anything hold you back from doing good, because good is a good thing.”