AS A GROUP OF VOLUNTEERS WATCHED, Courtney Addison led her son, Cayden, into their backyard in Chesapeake, Virginia. A blindfold kept the 5-year-old from peeking at the surprise before him. When Addison pulled it off, she saw the joy in Cayden’s face as he ran to a newly constructed playset—his ongoing cancer treatment forgotten for a moment.

Volunteer Effort

In Virginia and North Carolina, the Roc Solid Foundation travels directly to families’ houses to build playsets alongside local volunteers. In addition, the foundation ships materials anywhere in the contiguous U.S., allowing community volunteers to build a playset for a local family through its Roc Solid On Demand program.

 

“It was the sweetest thing,” Addison says. Cayden was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive subtype of acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3 in 2020.

That momentary escape from the trials of cancer treatment came about thanks to the Roc Solid Foundation, a Chesapeake-based nonprofit created by Eric Newman that builds playsets for children undergoing cancer treatment.

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Newman was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma—a rare pediatric liver cancer—when he was 3 years old in 1985. He had more than half of his liver removed, followed by two years of chemotherapy.

At the Ready

Roc Solid Ready Bags provide key items for a family’s extended hospital stay.

When Eric Newman received his cancer diagnosis, his father had to leave the hospital to go home and pack an overnight bag. He was so overwhelmed that he got lost on the drive to his house and forgot to bring half of the needed items. To help other parents and kids, the Roc Solid Foundation provides hospitals with Roc Solid Ready Bags—backpacks containing toiletries, a universal phone charger, a tablet, games and other items for a family’s extended hospital stay. The organization has distributed close to 8,000 bags to 93 hospitals nationwide.

In 2008, Newman, who has a background in construction, took a job building a playset for a local family and brought his father along. After the playset was finished, the family’s daughter hugged Newman, thanking him for the hours of fun that awaited her. While the girl did not have cancer, the moment showed Newman the power of play. “I looked at my dad, and I [said], ‘I think I’m supposed to build playsets for kids fighting cancer,’” he says.

Cayden Addison slides down the slide on the new playset from the Roc Solid Foundation into the awaiting arms of his father, Darryl. Photo courtesy of the Roc Solid Foundation

Newman built the first one the following year for a 5-year-old girl with leukemia, and the Roc Solid Foundation has since assembled more than 2,000 playsets. Roc Solid covers the cost of materials and organizes local volunteers to come to the family’s home. Within a few hours, the child—who often is immunocompromised and cannot use public playgrounds—has a new place to play.

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Roc Solid offers “hope and joy in such a difficult time,” says Addison, whose son finished treatment in April 2022. “It really did mean so much.”

“It gives the family a safe place to be a family,” Newman says. “We provide a little bit of balance in the chaos of cancer.”

Thomas Celona is an associate editor for Cancer Today.