PHOENIX -- During the introductory unveiling of the MLB All-Star Arizona Diamondbacks Branch A Kieckhefer Family Legacy at the Boys & Girls Club of Metropolitan Phoenix last July, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig called the renovated facility "a place to dream, to realize anything is possible ..."
Thanks to a little bit of holiday magic courtesy of the D-backs, that pro-imaginative spirit continued Thursday night in South Phoenix, as team employees and volunteers returned to spread good tidings by hosting a holiday party for 300 kids. The festivities included food, activities, visits by team mascot D. Baxter and Santa Claus and, of course, presents for the local at-risk youth population in attendance.
"We couldn't have put on a holiday party without the D-backs," said Unit Director Nicole Torrez. "In this community, we serve a lot of single parents and foster children. Without the team coming in, a lot of kids wouldn't be taking a Christmas gift home tonight. It means a lot to us and the community.
"There was dinner in the gym for the kids, their siblings and their parents. The kids got to meet Santa and take a walk through his 'workshop' for a present to take home. The D-backs also had staff on-site to read to the kids and help out with karaoke. This year, we even did bingo for the parents."
Since last summer's $2-million building renovation through donations from MLB and the D-backs, membership at the South Phoenix facility has grown to just under 200 youths -- a big enough jump to now warrant a waiting list for entry.
"That just shows how nice this place is now," Torrez added. "We've had more kids as members and more families involved since July. So to be able to have a family event and have the Diamondbacks here, it's a big deal and we appreciate everything they've done for us."
Vice president of club operations of the Boys & Girls Club of Metropolitan Phoenix, Bridget McDonald believes that providing a community destination for at-risk, young people can be an uplifting diversion from potential strife at home.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm and hope here. Things are getting better and moving in the right direction," McDonald said. "And what a great thing for us to have a place like this to make it happen. This is where kids can come and be kids. Everything that happens in the world affects them, too.
"When parents are worried about paying bills and losing jobs, kids feel all of that. When they come here, they can leave that all behind. They can just play baseball and basketball, get on computers or play pool. They can be kids and can see the world doesn't have to be that heavy."
While the unique holiday partnership between the D-backs and the South Phoenix Boys & Girls Club is quickly becoming an annual tradition, it's just a short 365 shopping days until jolly, old St. Nick, a certain furry D-backs mascot and team employees will make their much-anticipated return.
"It's especially sweet this year because it's a new facility," McDonald said. "Everybody knows the D-backs are friends. The kids are even starting to recognize members of the team: 'Those are the people who helped get us here.' They know, and they appreciate it."
Josh Greene is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.