This 11-Year-Old Has Raised More Than $70k to Grant the Wishes of Nursing Home Residents
"I think Ruby's starting a movement—recognizing a need and just doing something about it."
For 11-year-old Ruby Kate Chitsey, whose mom works as a nurse practitioner in and around Harrison, Arkansas, summers mean a lot of time spent at nursing homes. The fifth grader told CNN that she enjoys hanging out with the residents, but admits sometimes it can get boring.
But everything changed for Ruby one day last summer when she saw a resident named Pearl sitting in her wheelchair, staring longingly at an exit. Peering out the door, Ruby spotted a dog being led out on a leash to a car. Pearl's 12-year-old dog had come to visit for the day, and she didn't know the next time she would see her dog again.
"It was very sad," Ruby told CNN. "We have a lot of dogs and I could feel her pain."
She knew it cost $12 an hour to have a pet sitter come, but she also knew that many of the residents have little to spare. And it occurred to her: how many others couldn't afford simple things that brought them joy? That's when she decided to do something about it.
Ruby began asking residents what three things in the world they wish they had right now and wrote them down in an old notebook.
The answers were surprising.
One man said he wanted some pants that fit. Another, who said she hadn't had a fresh strawberry in eight years, simply asked for fresh fruit. Other asked for books or phones because they were lonely.
"Talking about it still makes me emotional," Ruby's mom Amanda Milford Chitsey told CNN. "I had known some of these patients 20 years. They told her things they would've never told me because she was a child."
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Amanda explained to CNN that most elderly Americans living in nursing homes rely on Medicaid. They get room and board and medical care—but just $40 in cash a month for anything extra.
"The system is built for your family to cover those gaps. In reality we see over 90% of my residents—they don't have family visitors," she added.
Identifying those gaps and deciding to do something about them is how "Three Wishes for Ruby's Residents" was born. With the help of her mom, Ruby set up a Facebook page and a GoFundMe account to raise the money she needed to make the residents' dreams come true.
So far, Ruby has raised more than $72,000 through GoFundMe, and she's been busy using that money to bring joy to residents with the simplest things.
"They weren't new cars or a million dollars [they wanted]," Ruby told CNN. "They were very simple things that you could just go in Walmart and get—and that's what we do."
Last week Ruby and her mom spearheaded "Operation Happy Meal," gifting about 100 residents with free burgers and fries. That day, residents that never smile, smiled, Amanda said.
"I think Ruby's starting a movement—recognizing a need and just doing something about it," the proud mom told CNN. "This is about their quality of life— bringing them joy."
You can donate to Three Wishes for Ruby's Residents here.