Meet Daily Point of Light honoree Ruby Kate Chitsey. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.
With an inquisitive mind and a big heart, Ruby Kate Chitsey is helping to change the senior citizen community in her Harrison, Ark. town and all across the country.
While visiting the nursing home her mom Amanda works at, Ruby encountered a resident named Pearl who was in the process of giving up her dog due to lack of funds to take care of it. That’s when Ruby learned the home’s residents were living on a $40-per-month stipend to cover all of their needs. Upset by the news, Ruby asked Pearl ‘If you could have any three things in the world, what would they be?’
A simple question to one resident turned into a nonprofit dedicated to providing for nursing home residents and connecting generations. Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents has raised more than $250,000 for the residents at five nursing homes in Ruby’s area. The organization also has a program that anyone in the country can participate in for their local nursing home as well.
Points of Light spoke with both Ruby and Amanda, who serves as the nonprofit’s president, to learn more about how Ruby is helping senior citizens in need.
Describe your volunteer role with Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents.
Ruby: Three Wishes is mostly about a story about Pearl. She only received $40 a month for things like haircuts, new clothes, shoes, pet food, cell phone service and meals out, and there’s a lot of other things that she could buy. There are a lot of people just like Pearl. I felt like that was not enough money. She also had a dog named Gigi and she actually had to give up her dog to have more spending money and I felt like that was really sad and I just wanted to help her. I helped Pearl and I changed her life and now I want to help the millions of other residents just like her.
I asked Pearl if she could have any three things in the world, what would they be? She said she just wanted a Chicago pizza, pet food for her dog and a little bit extra spending money. We can’t [give money] yet because we have to fill out a lot of documents, but we definitely got her pizza, even though it wasn’t Chicago pizza.
I almost felt like she was so happy even when I asked her because nobody had gone to her room and talked to her. I just felt really bad for her because her reaction was priceless.
What led you to ask that question to other residents?
Ruby: I brought an old third-grade notebook with me and I went around and I asked them ‘If you could have any three things in the world, what would they be?’ I wrote them down and I showed them to my mom and she was just stunned and everybody else was stunned. I definitely knew I should do this with everyone, every nursing home resident at every home ever.
I still ask the people if you could have any three things in the world what would they be. Sometimes after a long period of time, we ask them again if you could have any three things in the world, what would they be. Sometimes we don’t even ask them. We’ll give them [gifts] some days.
Amanda: It’s really grown bigger. We still do the individualized wishes and we organize those with classrooms in our community. We partner with schools in our district to come in and do that with us, and then on our website we have the Three Wishes Project in a printable format so schools across the country can use our program as well as a model to do a field trip. We’ve received posts from across the country where kids — especially middle schoolers, fifth grade, fourth grade, sixth grade — they use their field trip money to go in the nursing homes and do the Three Wishes Project. Instead of using that money for their typical field trip, they’ll use that money to actually buy the residents their wishes. It’s a great project. Instead of making it about the student, and making it about ‘me, me, me,’ they turn it around and make it about giving back. That’s available on our website so that’s one of the ways we promote that nationally.
Then locally we do much bigger things for the wishes, like coat drives, food drives. We had Operation Happy Meal, which was one of my favorite things and I think Ruby’s too, where we go get Happy Meals for everyone for the day. We bring in Domino’s pizza. We raised so much money, we’re able to do so much bigger things now. We brought in memory foam pillows for every resident. We have new shoes for every resident now, whereas before they were responsible for buying their own shoes out of that money, so now our residents don’t have to worry about that locally. Those are just a few examples. We also have a mailbox cup in our nursing home where [residents] can drop their wishes inside that mailbox and then we go collect those and fulfill them that way as well.
What kind of wishes have you granted?
Ruby: They ask for food most of the time, like little snacks, like little bags of Cheeto puffs or chocolates. Those are our foods and then we give out blankets, and post cards, and a lot of pillows. There’s a lot of things they ask for and we just grant as much as we can.
Amanda: I would say the pillows are big. We get back scratchers. Some of the homes like entertainment so we do get a lot of requests for DVD players, music, updated card games, the larger print books. One of the things one of our kids discovered is that their books were really the thrift store castaways. I don’t know that I would ever read one of their books, the quality was terrible. We get a lot of requests for Western and some genre books that are kind of hard to get, so we get a lot of requests for really higher-quality books.
How do the residents react when they receive these items?
Ruby: Their reaction is priceless. They’re always happy. Some cry in happy tears and I’m just like ‘Woah, I did something very good for someone today.’
Amanda: It’s incredible. I can’t compare it. As a family we’re really well traveled. They’ve been everywhere, they’ve seen lots of different things and we’ve never had the ability to move a human like we have in this respect. I can’t think of a way you can move someone like you can in these poor nursing homes. Ruby can give someone a 37-cent can of Vienna sausage and it’s as if you gave one of Ruby’s friends an iPad. They will cry and they will hug Ruby. It moves them in a way that’s really incredible. Ruby and I both said it a hundred times, we feel like we’re the ones being gifted. It fills your soul with such a great feeling to know you made someone this happy. I don’t get the opportunity in America many times to do that. For Ruby being a child, and we’ve been doing this now for two years, I think it’s really made her such a great little human to have had this impact on others for so long. I love seeing her do this and what it does to her.
Have you been able to share this with your friends or other kids your age?
Ruby: We have a kid board and some of my friends are on there. I feel like the kid board is a super big part of Three Wishes.
Amanda: Our organization is really powered by that kid board. It is a youth-led organization. We would not be here if it weren’t for Ruby. When she pulled out that notebook and went to ask those residents, ‘if I could grant you any three things, what would they be?,’ I told her not to do it. I thought it was a really silly idea that would not work. And she went on to raise $250,000 because of that question. My adult mind honestly told her not to do it. You can see where I crossed our her questions three times, and she stuck with it. When we were doing our bylaws and getting prepared to make this a nonprofit, we were steadfast that we were going to have an adult board but we were also having a kid board, so we would always have that child perspective, those kid goggles, and we would never make that mistake I made again. We would always be led with kid eyes and they would continue to show us and steer us in the right direction with the organization. We’ve been so right in doing that. We have five kids on that board and every time we meet, they give us the best ideas ever. They introduce us to ideas that we would never consider ourselves. They’ve kept us on track in ways that I can’t even describe to you. They work so hard. Over 75 percent of the projects that we’ve carried out this year have been done by those children ages 9-12. They are powerhouse volunteers and they work super hard for the elderly. I’m so proud of each of them. They’re great kids.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
Ruby: We are building a community center where kids and elderly can connect. We’re making it out of a really old building … I’m just excited about it.
Amanda: The center, I don’t know of anything like it. It’s very unique. One of the themes of our organization is connecting the generations. We’re super proud of that. We have built the front of our community center to have classroom-sized tables so we can continue to connect with our local high schools and middle schools and elementary schools. We can accommodate a classroom at a time. We are going to have our elders from the community who — you know, a lot of our parents who are in a nursing home, they want to give back just like Ruby and I do. So one of our goals is to have those people who can still ambulate a little bit, and still want to give back, to come volunteer with us. We’re going to have kids from the community have free birthday parties there. We’re going to have huge crafting tables and free art and free canvases and free paints where a kid can come have a birthday party there. It’s going to be staffed by your mom who’s still able to give back in that small way, kind of like a Walmart greeter, so she still feels like she’s still giving back, she’s still valuable, she’s still worth something. It’s kind of a win-win.
Our veterans in the nursing home, we’ve been having them teach classes to our middle school and high schoolers about their service and what it meant to them and what it was like to be in some of the wars. We’re learning that they’re better than a textbook in some way. So we’re going to carry that over to our community center and continue those classes. We’ve been doing the STEM program that’s really common in our schools. We’ve been doing STEM with Seniors so our seniors actually do the STEM program with the students, and we’re going to continue doing that there as well. That should open up in the next six weeks. We have pictures of that on our Facebook site. We’re about to do a campaign on GoFundMe Charity, which is the new charity crowdfunding [campaign]. We’ve done three phases to get this off the ground and we’re in the last phase now, so there will be a small campaign on that to help us finish out those last six weeks.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Ruby: I really like their reactions and I love giving them what they wish for because it’s almost like Christmas to them.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Ruby: I learned that I should respect what I have and it really helped me in the heart because I feel like my heart just grew ten times bigger.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
Ruby: I feel like it’s great for people to give back to the community because everyone’s community is great. I feel like it’s awesome to give back and it really makes your heart ten times bigger and it makes you feel awesome.
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