How an Arizona town made their own Christmas miracle.

The Yuma community built a special, inclusive, kid-designed playground. And after an arsonist burned it down, they built it again.

If you want to design the best playground, you’ve got to ask the kids what they want.

That's what Ron and Stephanie Martin of Yuma, Arizona, did. They wanted to remember their late friend, who loved being outdoors near the Colorado River, so they donated $100,000 to fund a creative playground. The land was set aside in late 2005.

To prepare, 5,000 schoolchildren drew pictures and gave suggestions to help come up with the design.


The Martins hoped the playground would be a place where all kids could have fun. Based on the kids’ requests, they planned to make the ground out of a squishy plastic for gentler falls. There would be an Old West area just for the tiniest kids. Paths would be wide and level for wheelchair access. And they'd even have adaptive swings for larger bodies with safety supports.

Following the Martins' donation, the Yuma community raised another $450,000 for the playground build.

Yuma sits on the corner of California, Arizona, and Mexico. Agriculture is big there with the Colorado River, but unemployment is over 20%. Raising that much money in a community of fewer than 100,000 people was a huge undertaking.

In 2007, everything came together. 8,000 volunteers built the park themselves in just 10 days. Halfway through, when there wasn’t enough money or people to keep going, drive-by fundraisers were organized, and a call went out for help.

Welcome to the Creative Playground! Photo via yumacastlepark.com, used with permission.

The playground officially opened in February 2007 and became the favorite park in town immediately.

It was 17,000 square feet of pure fun.

Photo via yumacastlepark.com, used with permission.

It had features like a castle, dragon slide, climbing wall, airplanes, giant spider web, monkey bars, and a tree house tower. It was a kid’s paradise.

Then tragedy struck: an arsonist set fire to the Castle Park right after Christmas in 2014.

Photo via the City of Yuma, used with permission.

The special materials used for desert building melted and burned. It was a total loss.

But the playground had sparked something special within the Yuma community. It had given them a place to play and gather, no matter what else was going on.

So people immediately jumped in to help build ... again.

Within 24 hours, Yuma residents rallied to raise money to rebuild the park. Families donated a few dollars each. Some businesses pledged up to $10,000. A website was quickly established — YumaCastlePark.com — for updates. More than $70,000 was raised in the first few days, before the city heard that insurance would cover the loss.

Demolition cleared the way for the playground to rise again.

Families painted tiles to be included in the park design at community events during 2015.

Photo by Rachel Twoguns/Yuma Sun. Used with permission.

Construction began in September.

Photo by Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun. Used with permission.

No volunteers were needed this time — the insurance settlement included labor.

And so it was, less than a year after the fire, that Yuma celebrated a little Christmas miracle of their own.

Photo via the City of Yuma, used with permission.


Together, they welcomed back their biggest and best play attraction on Dec. 19, 2015.


The best part? The park is even better than it was before. Because insurance covered the fire, the funds raised right after the fire went toward a further expansion of the park. Now there are even more play areas for able and disabled kids alike to enjoy.

This story is about tragedy, yes. But it's also about the power of communities and the power of people to do something good for one another during the holidays. It's proof that no matter what, people are the strongest force there is.

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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