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This Tully Elementary Student Has a Heart For Others

Writer: Angela Boggs

Ryan Neighbors is a busy lady. She collects food donations for elementary school children for Blessings in a Backpack, gives out blanket and clothing donations for the homeless at the annual BBQ Under the Bridge and volunteers with Opal’s Dream Foundation, a program for seniors in nursing homes and long-term care.

She’s also an award-winning pageant princess named “Charity Supreme” with a platform for anti-bullying, and she recently appeared in the Miss Kentucky Outstanding Teen scholarship pageant. She has modeled in Derby fashion shows, at a show in Chicago and the BloFish Clothing “Passion Meets Fashion” show here in Louisville at Play dance club.

Ryan is 9 years old and has spina bifida, a congenital condition affecting the spine. Her love for helping others began when she was in the hospital at Christmas time — she began a toy drive for Norton Children’s Hospital. While undergoing treatment she also made bracelets and sold for $2 each, raising $1,000 for March of Dimes.  Ryan also hosted a lemonade stand and sold fundraiser t-shirts.

At five years old Ryan was a Dream Factory recipient. The organization grants wishes to children with chronic illnesses. Her wish was to be a princess. She went to Disney World to meet Cinderella and got to dress up like her too. 

“She was over the moon,” says her mother, Shelly King, even though she was in a cast at the time because of a broken femur. Ryan became an ambassador for Dream Factory and helps raise funds and volunteers to give away teddy bears.

Ryan even recently appeared on billboards for Dream Factory, at the KY International Convention Center and at I-65 near the Fairgrounds. 

“She was mind blown” when she saw the billboards,” King says.  “She’s been involved in so much her whole life.”

Ryan has also appeared at the acapella group Linkin’ Bridge’s Christmas concert, threw out a pitch at a Louisville Bats game at Slugger Field and met former Miss America Heather French Henry. Last year she was the recipient of a specially designed playhouse by Kosair Charities and Youthbuild Louisville.

Her mother feels that Ryan’s community service “gives her purpose. She’s got the biggest heart. We work hard to focus on what she can do, not what she can’t do. We don’t even have to force that focus, she’s always so happy.”

Ryan loves school, too. She’s a third grader at Tully Elementary in Jeffersontown and she is “very social, and loves her friends and teachers,” King adds.

King says that she recently competed with Ryan in a Mommy and Me pageant, too.

“We’ve met the best people and made the best friends through pageants,” King says. “They don’t really compete, they’re so kind,” noting that Ryan became interested in pageants because of her love of all things princess. She thought they were princesses.”

Ryan is not the only amazing person in her family. Her brother Jude is seven and in the second grade at Tully. King says “his heart belongs to the homeless.” He even asked Santa to bring him blankets he can give away for the past two Christmases. King says Ryan and Jude are “like twins,” and that he is very protective of his sister.

Big sister Riley is 15 and is a freshman at Mercy. She’s also a Dream Factory ambassador, and Ryan ‘absolutely adores her,” King adds. “They love doing makeup tutorials on each other.”

Riley is a cheerleader, and her cheer team has even gotten involved in the family’s efforts and helps with whatever causes they are fundraising for. 

Ryan’s father Chris is always there too, helping with the family’s activities. And Ryan’s school has gone “above and beyond to accommodate her and help her get the best education.”

She’s the only child in a wheelchair who is mainstreamed at the school.

“Ryan has reached and touched so many,” King says. “It’s neat to watch the ripple effect, the way others get inspired and jump on board.”

Ryan is also a huge NASCAR fan and got a chance to meet her favorite driver, Kyle Busch, at KY Speedway in 2017. Busch found out about Ryan through a family friend, sent her a pass and invited her to his pit. She met his wife and team as well, then a NASCAR representative took her to the driver stage and she got to meet each driver and shake their hands.

“It was a very special day,” King says. “They call Kyle ‘Rowdy,’ so Ryan had shirts made.”

Even though Ryan has had 36 surgeries, King says that she doesn’t get discouraged by her medical issues.

“She’s not a complainer, she takes everything in stride,” King says. “She loves the hospital, it doesn’t phase her, it’s not a big deal. She’s always been so happy and willing to do anything. She’s an old soul.”

Ryan’s current activities include collecting teddy bears for Dream Factory, and she has plans to help build beds for kids in need at an April event here in Louisville. Even with her busy schedule of doctor appointments, “she’s always collecting food and personal care items all year long for the homeless, and the teddy bears for the Dream Factory,” King says.

Readers can keep up with Princess Ryan at her Facebook page, Team Ryan, for photos of her with her favorite stuffed animal, Yoda, (he goes to surgeries with her), and her adventures at Kentucky Kingdom, and her first concert — Taylor Swift at KFC Yum Center.

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