In April 2011, one of the largest tornadoes in Alabama history hurled through the town of Phil Campbell. Twenty-six people were killed, including second-grade teacher Patricia Gentry, fourth-grade student Ethan Knox, and third-grade student Edgar Mojica, from Phil Campbell Elementary School. Along with homes and businesses, the town’s only playground was twisted and shredded to a pile of rubble by winds reaching over 210 MPH.

When faced with a natural disaster of this magnitude, rebuilding a playground isn’t high on the priority list. But KaBOOM! knows just how important it is for kids to be able to play in the face of such a tragedy. Play helps children process their emotions and just get back to being kids – a critical part of the healing process.

Donors from across the country responded in force, contributing enough money to give the kids of Phil Campbell an innovative Imagination Playground in a Cart™, which fosters creativity. What’s more, Disney stepped up and offered to fund a brand new post and platform playground under the KaBOOM! community-build model that brings people together to plan the playground, then build it in one day..

Emotions were high when on December 17th more than 450 volunteers came together to build their dream playground, which included a memorial to the teacher and students who were killed. It was a transformative experience for all involved.

“Seeing how people can pull together like this, it’s going to make her a stronger person,” said Amanda Adams of her daughter Lacie, who she brought out for the build day. “Before, I knew we were a close knit community but after the tornado everybody came together. We all became one.”

The people of Phil Campbell demonstrated that coming together for the good of their children was healing for the entire community. Donors from across the country showed that they too could make a difference and help this town recover from an unspeakable tragedy. In Phil Campbell, the healing process truly did start with a playground.