Roc Solid Foundation builds custom playground for Suffolk boy fighting pediatric cancer

Published 7:19 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

On the hottest day of the year, a cool kid got a cool playset, and for a moment, all was right in his world.

Brayden Vinson couldn’t wait for his new playset to be built, so he decided to pitch in, and when it was all finished and it was time for the reveal Friday afternoon, he sprinted out of the back door of his Nansemond Parkway home, climbed the steps to the slide and gave it his seal of approval before joyfully sliding down.

“I like it,” Brayden said, enthusiastically.

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The Roc Solid Foundation, as part of its Play Defeats Cancer Tour, gifted and built 30 custom playsets in 30 days for families of children fighting pediatric cancer throughout the United States.

The one put together for Brayden on Friday with the help of about 50 volunteers was No. 30.

April Vinson, who moved her family — six children and her fianceé James Herdman Jr. — from Chesapeake to her home in April, is thankful for it, the big backyard and the new playset.

But the playground is special for Brayden, who has been battling Midbrain Glioma since 2020. Between battling cancer and the COVID-19 pandemic, he hasn’t been able to get out and play much.

The new playground, a custom-built Backyard Discovery Woodland Swing Set, will give Brayden, and the rest of Vinson’s blended family, that opportunity.

Vinson recounted numerous hospitalizations for Brayden as the result of heart problems. Then in 2020 he was diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing treatments ever since.

“It’s taken a toll on everyone,” Vinson said. “Mainly, the kids have had to stop doing what they would typically do as kids because of COVID and worried about getting him sick. And now the boys … are finally back out and playing sports and they’re excited about that. It’s just really nice to have a safe place for the kids to go to play.”

And they all contributed to it.

With temperatures reaching 95 degrees, even the shady parts of Vinson’s backyard provided little relief for the volunteers, but none seemed to mind.

Mike McCarthy’s son Isaac, 5, was diagnosed with leukemia in July 2020, and he received a playset from the Roc Solid Foundation later that year. McCarthy, a Suffolk resident, said this was his way to give thanks and help someone else.

“He’s been wanting to come out and help out and help pay it forward himself,” McCarthy said. “So it’s great that we get to help build and help another kid play on a playground. It’s been huge for him.”

They all contributed to put different sections together, drilling and pounding screws into the playset.

Brayden took up a hammer for the cause, and he also helped carry parts to the other volunteers.

Seeing that joy was palpable for Roc Solid Foundation founder and CEO Eric Newman, a pediatric cancer survivor himself. Dedicating the playground and speaking to the assembled volunteers, Newman recounted his own journey as he presented Vinson and Herdman with a plaque with the heading “What Cancer Cannot Do.”

He asked them to hang it in a prominent place to remind them of the good and positive amid the cancer struggle and journey. Cancer can’t, as the plaque says and Newman read, “give away peace, corrode faith, kill friendship, destroy confidence, silence courage, reduce eternal life, shut out or cripple memories, and it can’t conquer the spirit.”

“I truly believe, today, right now, cancer is not winning,” Newman said. “It is not. You guys are winning (and) the community is winning.”

And for a moment, all was right in their world.

“When the child and the family … come around the corner and they see the playset completed, guess what they’re not thinking about? Cancer,” Newman said. “So we win every single time that we can allow the family to see the community and to take their mind off of cancer just for a second. And really, what this means is that we’re just helping to put a little bit of a balance in the chaos of cancer.”