When Ruby Kate Chitsey discovered a nursing home resident named Pearl could not have her beloved dog visit her in her aged care home, the 11-year-old realised there was a way she could help.
“I did the math and I could get Pearl a few visits with her dog because I know a pet visit with a dog is $12,” Ruby told Brut media.
From that time on, Ruby decided she was going to take a journal to the aged care home where her mother worked and ask residents what they needed or wanted – and grant those wishes free of charge.
Over the years, residents have asked for “a handful of money” and “a new leg”, but many have asked for basic items such as new shoes, pants that fit, fast food and fresh fruit.
When one resident asked for “freedom”, Ruby offered her a hug, which was gratefully received.
In the United States, aged care residents only receive $40 a month to spend on personal items.
“It didn’t take me long to realise there were almost a million people like Pearl in America trying to make ends meet with about $500 a year,” Ruby says on her website.
“I had almost $40 in my piggy bank and I was only 10.”
Residents were “giving up their pets and skipping haircuts” in order to keep their phones on.
“I knew I had to do something to help,” Ruby said.
So far, Ruby has raised $300,000 through the not-for-profit she started with her mother, nurse Amanda Chitsey, called ‘Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents’.
And the idea has taken off. Ruby has been featured in media all over the world, and one of Ruby’s proudest moments was when her flag was flown on a mission in Afghanistan.
Amanda said when she saw what the residents were wishing for it “broke me as a human”.
“I have been coming up to these nursing homes for 20 years and I have known those residents for 18 years, some of them. And the answers in that journal stopped me.
“All those years I took care of their colds, I took care of their pain, and I fixed their blood sugar, but I never asked about their joy,” she explained.
During COVID-19, Ruby continued delivering wishes. “In fact, we deliver more wishes now than ever,” she said.
In the hope of putting a smile on the faces of isolated residents, Ruby has been delivering to aged care homes ‘smile sacks’ – lunch bags decorated with art, notes and words of encouragement, and filled with treats.
They are also placing cats in nursing homes, and installing iPads and donated laptops to facilitate video connections between residents and families.
Ruby has also created an ‘Adopt-a-Resident’ campaign in which families can ‘adopt’ a resident, and help provide them with basic items they need.
Another aim of ‘Three Wishes’ is to inspire kids to take up volunteering.
“Lots of kids don’t really consider volunteering, they’re mostly into sports and I’ve never really fit into that. I would definitely like it if people could try something different,” Ruby said.
Amanda says Ruby has broken down a generational divide that has changed the way she approaches caring for older people.
“Those of us in the field of geriatrics appreciate what she’s done because it’s going to change the face of aged care and geriatrics,” Amanda said.
“For someone who’s been in this field for 25 years, to have an 11-year-old change you, that’s pretty remarkable.”
Amanda said there is a strong apathy towards older people in America, and around 90% of the residents she sees don’t receive any visitors at all.
Ruby’s work is helping to alleviate some of the isolation and loneliness these residents feel.
For one resident, Henrietta, Ruby has acquired weatherproof houses to keep her cats warm. After hearing the good news, Henrietta exclaimed, “Oh, that’s wonderful.”
“I know, I’m so happy,” Ruby said.