There's an 11-year-old girl in Harrison running around granting three wishes for people, but her name isn't Genie.
She is Ruby Chitsey, a sixth-grader at Harrison Middle School and founder of nonprofit Three Wishes for Ruby's Residents, a program that helps elderly people in nursing homes.
On Sept. 16, Ruby was among the winners of this year's Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. She and 15 others, ages 8-18 from around the U.S., received a top prize of $10,000 each.
She started her program in May 2018 when she accompanied her nurse practitioner mom, Amanda, to work at Mount Vista Rehabilitation and Health Center in Harrison. Ruby often goes to work with her mom, and on this trip she noticed that one of the residents was sad.
"I saw a resident staring out the window, and I asked her what was wrong," she says. "She said her dog had just left, and she didn't know the next time she would see it."
Pearl, the dog owner, lost her pet because she couldn't afford to keep her.
Ruby later learned that some residents have just a $40 monthly stipend to spend on things other than room and board.
She wanted to help them, and began asking residents what three things they most wanted. She wrote their wishes in a notebook, and she and her family would then buy them.
The wishes weren't outlandish. In fact, they were surprisingly simple.
"They're not big things, they're little things," Ruby says. "Most people request things like peanut butter, books, pillows, shoes, toothbrushes, a blanket, fruit ..."
In November, Ruby started a donation drive on the crowdsourcing site GoFundMe, and so far has raised more than $266,000 to buy the small items that make life a little easier for nursing-home residents.
Three Wishes has already expanded, with a chapter in Ohio and others starting in Florida and Louisiana. There is also a board of directors with adults and one with kids.
The kids' board, says mom Amanda, is there to make sure the adults keep the child-like vision of the program.
"None of us would be here if it wasn't for Ruby's vision," Amanda says. "The kids' board is a way to remind us why we are here, to see things like Ruby, through a kid's eyes."
The Gloria Barron Prize was started in 2001 by children's author T.A. Barron, who named it for his mother, and has awarded more than $500,000 to young leaders.
Ruby says that half of her $10,000 will go to Three Wishes and the other half will be used to help pay for college.
She spends a lot of time granting wishes for others, but what are three things Ruby would like to have?
She has to think a bit before finally answering.
"Ummm, maybe a whole bunch of candy, a new cat because my cat died a few weeks ago, and AirPods."
SundayMonday on 09/22/2019