For 12 years Ahwatukee Foothills resident Cynthia Laymon and her friend, Mary Chavez, have been making the holidays a little brighter for charities across the Valley by donating beautifully decorated Christmas trees they can reuse year after year.

This year a Gingerbread-themed tree is going to Family Promise and a tree they call “Wild Kingdom” will go to the Sojourner Center.

Laymon first got the idea for the charity trees when she was sitting in a hospital lobby years ago while her son was being treated. In the lobby was a poorly put together tree that actually did more to dampen Laymon’s mood than brighten it. She, a retired art professor, decided to start her own tradition of making sure that no one else had to see an ugly tree while they were going through an ugly situation.

Laymon and Chavez spend years putting the trees together before they donate them. They hunt local stores for the best deals on excellent pre-lit trees and just the right color of ornaments.

Each tree has a theme and even after years of putting trees together ideas for new themes keep coming and as long as Laymon is able to find nice trees on sale, she’ll keep decorating them.

This year’s Gingerbread tree will go on display at Family Promise’s day center. Family Promise is a local nonprofit that provides shelter for homeless families as they get back on their feet. They team up with local churches to host the families at night and at their day center they provide parents with tools they need to find a job or housing. The tree, decorated with gingerbread men, extravagant bows, and other sweet looking ornaments will be placed in the room that houses the center’s computers.

“At first I thought that might be more just for adults but when we went in there, there were kids toys on the floor,” Laymon said. “So while mom and dad are working with the social worker and on the computer the kids are in there, too. Last year someone came out and streamed some lights so for the first time they had some decorations on the outside of the apartment complex, but they’ve never had a Christmas tree before.”

The second tree, which has copper and gold accents, a hand-made and hand-glittered garland, and a wide array of hand-glittered zoo animals, will go to the Sojourner Center, which provides shelter for victims of domestic violence. The women at the shelter are able to earn “money” they can use at the shelter. During the holidays a classroom is turned into a shop where the women can go to buy gifts for their kids. The Wild Kingdom tree will decorate the shop.

“I’m sure without this it looks just like a classroom with fun stuff in it but I think this will make it feel like more of a boutique,” Laymon said. “I think it will make the store really feel like a Christmas store.”

Each tree is donated only to charities that have room to store the trees in the future and that want to set them up each year. Laymon includes detailed instructions for set-up and take-down.

Laymon and Chavez have many stories to tell about the lengths they go through to get the trees looking just right. They’ve pleaded with managers to give them a sale price early and have even driven to every Kmart in Phoenix to find just the right set of ornaments.

It’s memories that Laymon laughs at, but says in the end it’s always worth it.

“For me it’s fun dreaming up the ideas,” she said. “It’s hard when it’s late at night and I’m in pain and crawling on my hands and knees to find this certain piece, but it’s fun. It’s fun when you find what you need and when you get everything together. It’s very rewarding having them go to these charities because it’s places that wouldn’t have a tree otherwise. I like that they’ll have a tree going forward.”

Laymon’s biggest challenge is paying for the trees themselves. She won’t purchase a tree that isn’t on sale, but the quality has to be just right to hold all of the décor. To make a donation to help keep the charity trees going, contact Cynthia Laymon at (480) 598-8540 or at


• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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