- Associated Press - Saturday, September 30, 2017

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - Huntington cancer survivor, and recently established first-grader, Maggie Holton and her posse of mermaids set out a little more than a year ago with a dream of an all-exclusive playground for her fellow Huntington Ronald McDonald house residents to utilize.

Her determined and energetic approach led to her being awarded in April the 2016 Herald-Dispatch Citizen of the Year award, which is given to the Tri-State resident who has made a significant impact on the daily lives of people in our region.

Joining in her seventh birthday celebrations at Huntington’s Ronald McDonald House on Sept. 24, The Herald-Dispatch was on hand to gift her prize in front of her closest friends and family.

“It’s my birthday!” the active little girl exclaimed in passing. She said it felt “great” to get her award before running off to play on the playground she helped create.

The journey to the award for the stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer survivor who inspired the nautical-themed playground, located at the Ronald McDonald House, started with an idea to make a better place for the house families to play.

Her inspiration for the playground came after she stayed at the largest Ronald McDonald house in the world while she was being treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, which had a better quality play area than Huntington’s, according to Maggie’s mother, Kim Holton..

“Even at her young age, she really realized the differences between the two houses, and she didn’t understand why the Columbus one was so different than the one at home,” she said. “Within weeks, I’m not even kidding, of her feeling better, she started talking about this.”

With a little help from her parents, Maggie’s dream came to life. Kim Holton made a Facebook group called “Maggie’s Mermaids,” and the followers of which helped raise much of the $50,000 needed to build it.

“We asked her ‘It’s going to cost a lot of money, what are you going to do?’ She didn’t blink twice,” she said. “She was like ‘I think I will sell some lemonade and maybe I’ll draw some pictures and have an art auction.’ She had a plan and a dream and facilitated it.”

With the right mixture of determination and charm from Maggie, her goal was met in less than a year.

The custom-built, handicap-accessible playground has something for everyone, including an adaptive swing for Maggie’s friend Jacob, who uses a wheelchair. It was constructed by Rubber Designs in February and opened in March, featuring nautical paintings by advanced-placement art students at Cabell Midland High School, as well as sea-blue rubber flooring.

Upon hearing Maggie’s award earlier this year, her mother said it was a surreal feeling.

“We were stunned. I was so proud of her. I can’t even imagine being a Citizen of the Year, let alone a 6-year-old girl getting it,” she said. “I know we’ve just seen a little bit of what she can do, and I’m really excited to see what she is going to accomplish in her life.

“I don’t let Maggie talk about it, but she’s already got ideas about what she wants to do next. She’s got big plans, and she’s not finished.”

Maggie had previously complained the old playground had bees, but she was happy to report on Sept. 24 the bees were no more.

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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