How Boredom Changed One Girl’s Life

Ruby Kate Chitsey is only 11-years-old. Since she’s so young, and has a working mom, she can’t just run off to play the way some of her classmates do after school. So, Ruby Kate often joins her mom at work. Her mother is a nurse practitioner at local nursing homes in Arkansas.

Needless to say, a kid can get bored in a nursing home.

Boredom, however, can lead to positive outcomes. Neuroscience tells us that in times of boredom, our brains can develop creativity and empathy. For Ruby Kate—both happened the same day. She was in a sitting room and noticed a resident staring out the window intently; almost as if she was looking for something or for someone.  The resident sat in a wheelchair, quiet and still. So—Ruby Kate approached her and asked what she was doing. She found out the old woman was watching her dog that she’d owned for 12 years, exit with a friend, not knowing if she’d ever see her dog again. For Ruby Kate, it was a sad moment. She knew it was expensive to get a pet-sitter to bring a dog by the nursing home each day.

This got Ruby Kate thinking: how many other nursing home residents couldn’t afford simple things that brought them joy?

Boredom Became a Blessing

Photo from: https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/29/health/iyw-5th-grader-nursing-home-mission-trnd/index.html

This set Ruby in motion. She took an old notebook and began visiting these elderly folks and asking them what they missed the most from their former world. She called it their “Wish List” and asked residents for three wishes they wanted most. She got responses like:

  • Fast food
  • Paperback books
  • Dr. Pepper
  • My pet
  • A better pillow
  • My favorite candy bars
  • Magazines
  • A cell phone
  • Fresh fruit

Once she had some tangible wishes, Ruby Kate was motivated to get their wishes fulfilled.

She launched a Facebook page called: “Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents.” Then, her mother helped her set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for those wishes.

In a relatively short amount of time, she had raised over $70,000.

In fact, GoFundMe took note and named Ruby Kate “Kid Hero of the Month.” Her mom got emotional watching her daughter take a boring day and turn it into something redemptive, in service to others who can’t do it for themselves. Most elderly residents in nursing homes rely on Medicaid, leaving them just a small amount of money each month for spending. The system hopes for family members to make up the rest. The problem is—many residents have no family to visit them. So, with the money, Ruby makes trips to retail stores to pick up the items those elderly people wished for—and when she returns, she’s a bit like Santa Claus.

Most residents rarely smile—but Ruby Kate made them melt. There were smiles. Tears. Hugs. Laughter. And, then, the idea grew.

Ruby Kate’s mother jumped in to help.  She recruited a 74-year-old resident, Marilyn Spurlock, who said, “I’ve been here so long, I no longer felt useful. This gives me something to do. It took away a lot of my depression because I felt worthless and couldn’t do anything to help anybody. Now I can.”

So What Can We Learn From This Young Leader?

I think I spotted a few transferrable concepts from Ruby Kate’s story:

  1. Teach students to view boredom as an ally—not an adversary.
  2. As students become bored, enable them to look outward—not inward.
  3. As they look outward, teach them to look and listen to the needs of others.
  4. As they spot a need, coach them to use what they have to meet that need.
  5. As they pursue meeting needs, help them see their own needs get met.

“I think Ruby’s starting a movement,” her mom said. “Recognizing a need and just doing something about it. This is just about their quality of life—bringing them joy.” Wow. And to think it all started with a boring day.


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How Boredom Changed One Girl's Life