These Kids Are Making the World a Better Place

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Ruby Kate talks about cats with her friend, Henrietta. Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Ruby Kate Chitsey was heartbroken when she learned that a resident in the Arkansas nursing home where her mother worked had to give up her dog because she couldn't afford to feed it. The resident, Pearl, received only $40 a month from Medicaid and that had to cover expenses like haircuts, clothes and pet food. Eleven-year-old Ruby Kate couldn't believe there are almost 1 million other people like Pearl, trying to get by on so little.

Inspired by Pearl, Ruby Kate founded Three Wishes for Ruby's Residents to support seniors living in nursing homes across the U.S. Ruby Kate visits residents, asking, "If you could have any three things in the world, what would they be?" She then tries to fulfill their wishes, which are typically everyday items like fresh fruit, better toothpaste or shoes that fit.

Thoughtful Ruby Kate is one of the inspirational young winners of this year's Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an award that celebrates young people from across North America who've had a positive impact on people, their communities and the environment. Each year, the Barron Prize honors 25 young leaders from ages 8 to 18. Fifteen top winners each receive $10,000 to support their service work or higher education.

Ruby Kate keeps a notebook to track what seniors wish for.
Ruby Kate keeps a notebook to track what seniors wish for. Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Like Ruby Kate. After she heard about Pearl, she started asking residents what items they wished they had and wrote their answers in a notebook. She thought maybe they would want money or cars, but was surprised their requests were so simple.

The first day, she and her mom bought nearly everything on the list. But then Ruby Kate started organizing fundraisers so she could help grant more wishes. Later, she created an online campaign to help even more people. The campaign raised more than $250,000 from 6,000 people worldwide.

While Ruby Kate is working to expand her project across the country, she's also advocating for an increase in the monthly Medicare stipend.

"I feel valued for doing what matters to me — being kind — and am so glad the world took my voice seriously," Ruby Kate says. "Mostly, I'm grateful that I've changed the world for the elderly I know."

More inspiring winners

Charlie Abrams, 15, and Jeremy Clark, 14, of Oregon, who co-founded Affected Generation, a youth-led nonprofit working to fight climate change, help implement effective climate policy, and create environmental films.

Anna Du, 13, of Massachusetts, who invented a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that detects microplastics on the ocean floor. She also wrote a children's book, "Microplastics and Me," and has raised more than $7,000 to distribute the book free to libraries in high-need communities.

Garyk Brixi, 18, of Maryland, who developed better life-saving relief food for starving children in developing countries. He's teaming with an NGO to begin producing his food in Malawi.

Katherine McPhie, 17, and Milan Narula, 16, of California, who co-founded Open Sesame Coding for Kids and have taught computer coding skills to more than 100 children living in homeless and domestic violence shelters.

Will, 14, and Matthew Gladstone, 11, of Massachusetts, who co-founded the Blue Feet Foundation to help save the blue-footed booby. They have sold more than 10,000 pairs of bright blue socks to raise more than $80,000 to fund research to study the bird's decline in the Galapagos Islands.

"These outstanding young people renew our hope for the world," says author T.A. Barron, who established the award in 2001. "By honoring these kids who are making a positive difference, we hope to inspire many others."