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Ruby Kate Chitsey, 11, used to feel a little out of place at school in Harrison, Arkansas. She wasn't into pageantry or sports like some of her classmates.
"If you don't do those things in rural Arkansas you are really left out," said Ruby's mother, Amanda Chitsey.
Instead, Ruby says she likes watching YouTube videos, listening to pop singer Ariana Grande, and making gooey slime. During school breaks, Ruby also likes to tag along with her mother when she goes to work. Amanda is a nurse practitioner who cares for residents at five local nursing homes. Ruby likes to spend time with the residents — doing arts and crafts or just talking to them.
"We talk about like what they’ve been doing," Ruby said, "like: what’s one crazy thing you saw this week? Sometimes they tell jokes. Sometimes they can get really serious or really sad."
One day last summer, Ruby noticed that a resident named Pearl was staring out of the window and looking very upset.
"I asked her what she was looking at," said Ruby. "She said that her dog had just left and she didn't know the next time that she'd see it and that made me and my mom super sad."
Ruby and Amanda found out that Pearl couldn't afford to have someone take care of her dog. She didn't have any surviving family members and her dog was basically homeless. Pearl's former neighbor, also an elderly woman, did her best to take care of it. She fed it and brought it to the nursing home a couple of times to visit Pearl. Still, it was something too financially and logistically difficult to keep up.
After a little more digging, Amanda and her daughter found out that Pearl only gets $40 for incidentals each month from her Medicaid check. That was her only source of spending money. It wasn't enough to pay someone to care of her dog. Many of the other residents received just as little — if any — spending money at all.
Ruby was struck by Pearl's story. She wanted to do something to help her and the other residents. So she got out an old notebook and wrote down a simple question: "What are three things you wish you had?"
Amanda was skeptical of Ruby's broad question. She didn't think her daughter would end up with anything helpful or feasible.
"In my adult mind, that question is not going to work," said Amanda. "They're going to tell you that they want you know things you can't give them — and you can see in the journal I tried three times to mark out her question and she did not change her question."
Ruby persisted. She went door to door at the nursing home, asking residents to list their three wishes. When Amanda saw what her daughter wrote in her notebook, she was shocked.
"They wanted french fries and they wanted ... pants that fit," she said.
The list was filled with simple requests like new pillows, books, razors and peanut butter. Amanda says the experience was very humbling.
"I thought I was really good at what I did for a living and I was really good at treating colds and pain and diabetes and hypertension," said Amanda. "But I was really terrible at looking at their joy. ... [Ruby] changed that for me and that notebook totally changed my career."
Ruby and Amanda bought all of the items on the first list and that started a chain reaction of generosity and kindness. They launched a GoFundMe page to raise money to fulfill more wishes. Soon after, Ruby's story went viral and she's now raised more than $250,000 and founded her own nonprofit called Three Wishes for Ruby's Residents.
Ruby and Amanda have used the money to buy small things like strawberries as well as bigger things like televisions and cellphones. One donor gave an electric wheelchair to one of the residents. Ruby, meanwhile, has more high hopes for her project.
"I'd like it to go on forever and ever and ever," she said. "Because like I just want it to go bigger and like I want it to go around the states and even in different countries."
Ruby said she's gained a lot more confidence over the last year — and not from chasing pageant crowns or sports trophies but instead, from bringing joy and kindness to those who need it.
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