‘What she has is so powerful’
By GEORGE HOLCOMB firstname.lastname@example.org (published with permission)
“After all, these are just people. They were my age 50 years ago. They’re not any different.”
Befriending the residents led to the day Ruby saw a woman looking out the glass door. “I asked her what she was watching.”
The woman explained that her dog had just left. She had the dog for 12 years, couldn’t keep her, couldn’t afford to have her kept, and didn’t know if she would ever see her again.
Ruby, who loves her own dogs, understood Pearl’s sadness. It helped her understand the isolation and privation of many residents’ lives.
“Most of the people have only $40 a month to spend for anything personal they need,” Ruby explained. “That includes everything; haircuts, gifts for grandchildren.”
“If these people don’t have family or friends and don’t have anybody to help them, they can’t make the money go farther.”
The residents’ lives were being sustained, but many of them had little joy, little reason to live.
She carried a notebook through the summer, asking residents a question; “If you could have any three things, what would you want?” Each person’s answers went into the notebook.
She thought some people would treat it like a joke and ask for “money and an island and a house” but nobody did.
When Ruby asked the question, her friends knew she was serious.
Ruby Kate Chitsey has been named a Fox News Hero, a CNN News Hero, and GoFundMe’s Kid Hero of the Month for January.
She has raised more than $100,000 from more than 2,000 donors around the world and used that money to do small kindnesses for people who have nobody else to help them.
She’s an 11-year-old in fifth grade at Harrison Middle School, and people from Harvard University and international think tanks are trying to figure out how to scale up what she does.
“In third grade,” said Ruby, “I went through a period when I was depressed and didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere.” With her parents’ encouragement, she sought a way past that feeling.
“In the summer after third grade, I started a ‘Kindness Rocks’ program,” she said. “We painted rocks and left them around town, just in hopes people would notice them and smile. The first one I made was modeled on my cat Bubba.”
The project’s focus on making things for other people to enjoy helped Ruby. The summer of 2018 changed everything.
Ruby’s mother, Amanda Chitsey, is a nurse practitioner. She does daily rounds at five Harrison nursing homes. Last summer, Ruby went with her. She met the residents and felt comfortable with them.
“A lot of kids don’t get why I’m doing this, and some think I’m wasting my time,” said Ruby.
“I don’t find it odd to talk to them, I find it comforting and I enjoy it.”
“All I had to say was ‘If you could have any three things, what would you want?’ And they were very simple items, like items you could just go in Wal-Mart and get. Some of them were less than 10 dollars.”
“One man didn’t want three things. He just wanted a pair of pants that fit.”
“All I had to say was ‘If you could have any three things, what would you want?’ ”
People who had not had fast food in years asked for cheeseburgers. Some wanted fresh fruit, others soft drinks. Lots of people asked for Vienna sausages.
People were asking for the small silly things that make life, life.
“From May to November we were just pulling money out of our pockets to pay for the things people wanted. In November we started the GoFundMe page called ‘Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents.’”
With the money raised on GoFundMe and a warehouse full of contributed goods, Ruby is able to make slightly larger purchases, but she’s not letting it run away with her.
“That’s really a lot of money, but I have about 500 people to help with it. That’s about $200 for each person. It should last a while, but it’s really not as much as it seems like.”
So she keeps looking for bargains and putting them where they are needed.
“A man had an electric wheelchair and he didn’t really have a use for it anymore,” said Ruby. “He let me test drive it, and it is so fast – it has five speeds; beginner, turtle, medium, savage fast, and running away from the nurses fast.”
Ruby knows a resident whose speech and mobility are seriously impaired from a stroke. It took this lady 15 minutes to get from her room to the cafeteria.
“I rode up to Shannon and told her ‘we got you a wheelchair.’ She said, ‘I can’t take this’ and cried so hard she couldn’t stop.”
“Her right hand was stroke- damaged, so she was worried she wouldn’t be able to drive the chair left-handed. After 15 minutes with a physical therapist, she was driving around freely, and smiling as big as you can imagine.”
Now when Ruby shows up the woman gives her a sign that means “thank you” and conveys love.
How do you scale up a phenomenon like Ruby? People from Harvard are studying it, and Eden Alternative, a non- profit representing nursing home residents around the world, is too.
Amanda, Ruby’s silent partner, has a theory. “Ruby’s compassion often seems like a burden,” she said. “She sometimes envies other girls she knows who are tougher and more resilient.”
“What she has is so powerful. She can enter a room and see if someone is suffering. It hurts her, but she has learned to find her value and strength in helping.
“It’s a gift, and I think other kids have it too.” She thinks that like other instinctive skills, this one can be developed through practice.
Ruby is a little tired out by all the media attention on top of the usual 9 strains of being 11 years old. She looks back at this past year and that big, ice-melting smile spreads across her face.
“It’s amazing. It really is.”