In June 2021, LG Electronics Australia named Julie Ruge a hero in her local community of Wollongong, NSW. Following the tragic death of her 19-year-old daughter Libby in 2020, Julie launched a community initiative that she knew was close to her daughter’s heart.
Inspired by Libby’s ambition to study dentistry and as a means of continuing her legacy of supporting young people, Julie launched ‘Bee Kind Like Libby’, a fundraising program for the Libby Ruge Smile Fund that supports dental restoration for young adults.
While no day is the same without Libby in her life, Julie’s story is one of courage and resilience. She chose to manage her grief head on and share her daughter’s story, as a way of contributing to a broader and more meaningful purpose.
We spoke to Julie to learn more about her efforts – how she got started, her greatest challenges and what is in store for the Libby Ruge Smile Fund.
What inspired you to give back in your community?
JR: It was a phone call at 10:36pm on the 7th of November 2020 that changed our lives forever. We found out our beautiful 19-year-old daughter Libby, was hit and killed by an out of control car. As parents, we have always been available at any time of the day or night when she or her friends needed a lift, so the phone call on that Saturday night wasn't what we expected.
The horror of that night and the PTSD we suffer as a result of her injuries, having to identify our baby by her hands will stay with us forever. This was the day our nightmare began, but through time it was what inspired us to make a change and give back. Libby’s ability to make anyone smile was something that we wanted to continue. Whether it was her daily random acts of kindness or just the genuine care she displayed for everyone around her, we knew in our hearts that we had to carry out Libby’s legacy.
How did you come up with the concept?
JR: Two days after Libby passed, I was sitting at the beach trying to make sense of all the horror. All I wanted to do was honour her beautiful soul and the first thing that popped into my head was the warmth anyone felt as soon as Libby smiled. And that’s how the not-for-profit, Libby Ruge Smile Fund (LRSF) came about.
Libby was the most kindhearted person you could ever meet. And this isn’t just the opinion of her two loving mothers. In fact, we’ve learned more about Libby’s beautiful spirit and caring heart since we lost her.
Libby aspired to be a dentist and it was her caring nature that drove this ambition forward. In her first job interview, she was asked why she wanted to pursue dentistry and her response: “I saw the way it changed my Mum’s confidence when she had her smile restored at 50 and I want to do that for everyone”.
Libby’s passion for dentistry and her selfless nature were always with her wherever she went. When she started to do some modelling, she told me about Jorja - a friend she had made. I remember her saying, “She’s so beautiful, Mum. She works hard, lives out of home, but lacks confidence because of her teeth. There is no way she could afford to pay for braces herself.” It was Libby’s goal to help fix Jorja’s teeth as soon as she was able to.
In addition to the LRSF, we’ve also set up the BeeKind Like Libby (BKLL) fundraising initiative, inspired by Libby’s small bee tattoo with the words ‘Bee Kind’. Through the BKLL we sell merchandise inspired by Libby's favourite things. All proceeds from the sales go towards the set-up cost of LRSF. To further our cause, and continue Libby’s legacy of kindness, we have also started a ‘Random Act of Kindness' initiative with cards that we include in each order received that encourage people to pay it forward.
What results have you achieved so far?
JR: With the support of the two local Orthodontists and Prosthodontists Libby worked for and through our fundraising efforts, Jorja has received extensive restorative work on her teeth. She is now proudly smiling through braces, her confidence is at an all-time high, and she is so very grateful. The team at ‘My Dental Team’ have pledged to help LRSF restore five smiles per year.
BKLL has also been the beneficiary of a Boxing Boot Camp held in Libby’s name by her trainers, a Sweat and Smile event at our local gym, cake stalls at the local high school, as well as various donations from local businesses. The generosity of our local community is something we are so grateful for and continues to show the impact and legacy that Libby has left.
Have you come up against any challenges?
JR: The hardest part has been trying to navigate our way around all the legalities of setting up LRSF and attending various fundraising events, all while suffering such debilitating grief and PTSD. We believe it's our job as Libby's parents to continue the work she was set out to do and spread her message of kindness. We have been extremely lucky to have so many of her young friends supporting us, and regularly checking in, which is a testament to the amazing girl Libby was.
What's next for you and your initiative?
JR: We’re in the process of planning the Inaugural Libby Ruge Smile Fund Launch Ball in November. This will be a black tie, red carpet event to raise awareness, funds and celebrate what should have been Libby's 20th birthday. We’ll also showcase Jorja's smile progress and our next plans for the initiative.
What does being named LG's Local legend mean to you?
JR: We are so grateful to LG for giving us a platform to share Libby's legacy of kindness and hopefully inspire others to come onboard and assist us to do more. We hope by sharing our story, the ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ initiative and our mission of assisting young people to have their smiles restored, may help build confidence in those who need it the most.
We would truly like to thank Julie for her contributions in supporting Wollongong’s youth. We wish the Libby Ruge Smile Fund our best as they continue to change lives, build confidence, share kindness and restore smiles. For more information on the Libby Ruge Smile Fund, visit Bee Kind Like Libby.
If you know someone like Julie making a difference through their time, actions, talents and/or dedication to others, you can nominate them to be named an LG Local Legend by visiting: lglifesgood.com.au/nominate-a-local-legend.
We are looking forward to celebrating their achievements with you soon!