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Arizona stories that inspired us in 2020

Here are some stories from 2020 that warmed our hearts, inspired us or just simply made us smile.

ARIZONA, USA — We do not have to remind you of how difficult 2020 has been for so many Arizonans. From the COVID-19 pandemic to economic distress to political divisiveness, this has been a year like no other.  

Despite all the challenges and hardships, there were plenty of moments that shined light into our lives here in Arizona.  

Here are some stories from 2020 that warmed our hearts, inspired us or just simply made us smile.  

Phoenix police officers injured in deadly shooting embrace outside of the hospital 

Officer Marissa Dowhan and Officer Alicia Hubert were both shot in an incident in north Phoenix that killed Commander Greg Carnicle. 

Both Officer Dowhan and Hubert faced non-life threatening injuries. 

It was a bittersweet moment as the community mourned the loss of Commander Carnicle. He was described by loved ones as "a true hero."

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Former ASU women's basketball player on frontlines treats coronavirus patients 

Dr. Michelle Tom is a former ASU Women’s basketball player from the late 90s, who is now on the frontline in Winslow, Arizona.  

She was treating COVID-19 patients at Winslow Indian Health Care Center and Little Colorado Medial Center in April when she spoked with 12 News. The days were long and some were better than others, but her attitude, work ethic, and spirit never wavered.  

“I’m actually doing pretty good,” said Dr. Tom.  "I definitely have to count my blessing everyday that I really truly get to do what I love.” 

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Arizona woman fighting aggressive cancer surprised with dream wedding 

For Samantha Preston, it was the wedding of her dreams. 

“It was super important because I don't know how much longer I have. So, for me to get married to the love of my life, and to have my son there, it was so important,” Preston said. 

The ceremony was a complete surprise for Samantha. It was organized by Banner Thunderbird Hospital and Smiles for Miles, a non-profit that works with cancer patients. 

Samantha was fighting osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.

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High school teens kick start Wi-Fi fundraiser for Valley elementary school students 

Coronavirus made the return to the classroom a challenge for some Valley schools.  

So, when a small group of local teens found out some of those students couldn’t afford internet at home, they started working on a solution. 

Neha Balamurugan, Tony and Lauren are the seniors behind the Break Digital Divide program. 

They're raising money to help preschool through fourth grade families in the Alhambra Elementary School District pay for internet. 

“It’s definitely a hardship and a choice they have to make between taking care of their daily needs and/or purchasing internet," Bilyou said. 

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Goodyear installs massive heart art project for city's 75th anniversary 

If you've been out in the West Valley, you have probably seen some giant heart sculptures. 

They're hard to miss.  

The giant heart sculptures have suddenly started appearing across Goodyear, but where did they come from and why?" 

They are actually part of a larger project, according to Goodyear’s City Arts and Culture Administrator Guylene Ozlanski. 

"The Heart of Goodyear project is an installation that the city has installed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the city of Goodyear," Ozlanski said. 

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Valley nonprofit showers love over people in need 

As homelessness continues to be a battle for many in our community, one organization hit the road to give anyone who wants it a fresh start.  

And when you don’t have a place to call home, something as simple as a shower goes a long way. 

The local no-profit, Cloud Covered Streets, put a converted trailer to work. They set up where needed. Then people experiencing homelessness can shower, do laundry, nails and even have some good conversation. 

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Young Valley dancer with autism breaks barriers, lands big opportunity with Disney 

Despite odds stacked up against him, a Valley 8-year-old has found his voice through dance.  

His inspirational journey has now caught the attention of Disney, and Brendan Schroeder is breaking down stereotypes one step at a time. 

Disney, hearing about Brendan's talent, placed his family on "Fam Jam." Brendan's mom Gina, grandpa Ed and sister Haley all dance on his team. 

The show featured the Schroeders competing against another family team. 

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Arizona influencer helps local restaurants suffering during COVID-19 pandemic with 'Venmo Challenge' 

Diana Brandt wasn't always known as the influencer AZ Foodie 

She was a mom working miscellaneous jobs trying to find her passion. That passion turned into posting and blogging about restaurants around town. 

"Over the last six and half years, I entered this cool community of people and so many amazing opportunities, so it's been really fun,” said Brandt. 

Diana received donations from the community and has tipped $15,000 in $1,000 increments to various restaurants and even to a DoorDash delivery driver in the Valley. 

"It's a very emotional experience to be able to participate in and be that vessel for everyone that's tipping," Brandt said. 

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Scottsdale dry cleaners get help from Barstool Fund 

A Scottsdale dry cleaning business got some much-needed help from the Barstool Fund, a fund set up to help small businesses survive the pandemic. 

Pony Express Cleaners, a dry cleaning company in Scottsdale, was only "six or seven weeks" away from closing, owner Kevin Redden said.  

Redden's daughter submitted an application to the Barstool Fund, a project of Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy. The Barstool Fund has raised more than $7 million to help small deserving small businesses impacted by the pandemic, mostly from donations. 

On Christmas Day, Portnoy called the Redden family, but Kevin wasn't there. He was at the dry cleaners, trying to determine which of his employees could best survive a cut in hours. 

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Valley family gets Christmas miracle after shocking tumor diagnosis 

A holiday miracle unfolded in a Valley neighborhood after a family received a shocking diagnosis: A brain tumor in a 12-year-old girl from Ahwatukee. 

Hope Defenderfer returned home and recovered after surgery for a benign brain tumor 

Her mom, Ann Trent, says the love this family experienced from the community is beyond anything they ever could have imagined. 

Trent’s teacher colleagues and friends who’d already raised thousands of dollars this year to help her, a single mom, buy a home, quickly stepped up again. 

Their home was filled with decorations and food and medical bill donations when they got home from the hospital.

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Credit: Ann Trent

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