When you look at 6-year-old Fernando, you see a boy who lives his life to the fullest. It was proven Thursday when he was surprised with a play set — complete with a slide and set of swings — in the backyard of his home in Clovis.
The youngster grinned from ear to ear as he climbed the ladder to enter a clubhouse that overlooked a crowd of nearly 30 volunteers. But under his armor of courage, Fernando is living with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
It was a story that sounded familiar to Eric Newman, a survivor of pediatric cancer who founded Roc Solid Foundation, the Virginia-based nonprofit foundation that gives children with cancer a chance to temporarily escape from the pressures of doctors and treatments and do what they do best — play.
At age 25, Newman organized a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia. The inaugural “Night for the Fight” was such a success, Newman was inspired to continue helping children diagnosed with cancer. He developed a flagship program, Play It Forward, which involves building play sets for children ages 1 to 8 and redesigning bedrooms for tweens and teenagers.
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“Play is the one thing that we never had to be taught to do,” Newman said. “Giving the gift of play back to a child is probably the most rewarding part of it.”
When Barbara Brandon, vice president of D.W. Investments, heard about Roc Solid Foundation, she felt compelled to bring Newman and his team to the Central Valley. Roc Solid Foundation has been partnering with the Galardi Group, the founders of Wienerschnitzel, for about 2 1/2 years, Newman said.
They were introduced to Fernando through Valley Children’s Healthcare.
Brandon said volunteers were employees and friends of employees who work at various Wienerschnitzel locations in Clovis, Fresno and Bakersfield. They started at 9 a.m., finishing shortly before noon.
Fernando was also surprised by Josh Herrin, a professional motorcycle road racer from Glendale. The superstar is one of 13 athletes who are part of “Team Weiner.”
Thursday, the journey continued for Newman and his team as they made their way to Southern California to surprise 4-year-old Chema and 2-year-old Michael with playsets.
Learn more about the Roc Solid Foundation by visiting rocsolidfoundation.org.