Photos by Misty Prewitt
Every year, 16,000 families in the U.S. are faced with an unthinkable diagnosis: their child has cancer. For Eric Newman’s family, that news is all too familiar. At age 3, Newman was diagnosed with liver cancer and was given a slim chance of survival. After two years of treatment, Newman went into remission and recovered.
Sadly, that was not the end of his family’s pediatric cancer story. Newman lost two first cousins to pediatric cancer. First it was his father’s brother who lost his child to an inoperable brain tumor. Then his father’s sister’s daughter, who had gone into remission for leukemia, fell out of remission and passed away at age 16.
The day his family laid his 16-year-old cousin to rest, Newman decided he would work hard, party hard and play hard—because he figured the cancer would be coming back for him too. He started a couple of businesses, sold one of them, and then started a construction company.
Newman’s early success came to a screeching halt when the housing market crashed in 2008. His company went belly up, and Newman took off to Costa Rica to try to surf it off. During that trip, he wrote down the word “hope” in a journal. He didn’t know what the significance of the word was yet, but he knew it would be part of his story.
When he came back from Costa Rica, a friend asked Newman to help him with a fundraiser for CHKD. Together they raised $7,000 for the hospital where, many years earlier, Newman had fought his own cancer battle. It was during that fundraiser when Newman first told his story to a pediatric cancer mom.
“She told me I’d given her and her husband hope,” Newman recalls. “That was the start.”
Newman knew it was his mission to bring hope to families experiencing pediatric cancer. Pairing his expertise in construction with this new mission, he founded Roc Solid in 2009. The nonprofit would raise funds to build playsets for children fighting cancer. The first year, Roc Solid built one playset. The second year, they built two. In 2020, Roc Solid built 200 playsets for kids fighting cancer. And this year they are on track to do over 500 playsets across the U.S.
Roc Solid also provides Ready Bags to families who receive a pediatric cancer diagnosis.
“It was my mom’s idea,” Newman says. “I asked her what she remembered from that time in our lives. She said it was my dad having to leave her on the worst day of her life to go pack a bag. So we decided we’d make that one less thing families have to worry about.”
Ready Bags are packed with everything a family needs for an unexpected hospital stay: toiletries, a blanket, and even a tablet for the child to play with. This year, Roc Solid will distribute 2,000 Ready Bags to families across the country.
The work of Roc Solid is certainly not without its challenges. But Newman is inspired to keep going every single day to help the families who desperately need hope.
“Seeing what cancer has done to my family—knowing that as I’m talking with you, there are 16,000 families that experience what my family experienced, and it tears them apart—that’s the burden that qualifies me for this work,” Newman says. “I can’t change what these families are going through. But I can help give them hope, and I won’t take no for an answer. I won’t stop until we’re reaching 16,000 families a year.”
In keeping with his mission to build hope, Newman recently published his first book, What Hope Looks Like: Use Your Pain to Fuel Your Purpose. The book is part-memoir, part-how-to-guide for starting a nonprofit or a mission-driven business.
“For the last 13 years—since the day I wrote the word ‘hope’ down in that journal—I’ve collected my thoughts, my failures, the ups and downs of the organization,” Newman says.
“When I wanted to start Roc Solid, it wasn’t easy for me to find all the information I needed. So I wanted the book to be a roadmap for using your pain to fuel your purpose. It’s a simple way for people to get started loving and serving their community.”
Newman hopes his book will be successful. But for him, success isn’t necessarily about selling a million copies.
“Of course I want a million people to read it. But if one person reads this book, and they go out and change millions… that’s my hope and prayer behind this book,” Newman says.
When he isn’t busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a nonprofit, Newman takes every opportunity to spend time with his family. He and his wife Analisa have two children, Cameron and Braxton, who love going to the beach, traveling, and of course, helping build playsets.
Learn More about Roc Solid at RocSolidFoundation.com.