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Bass Pro’s Morris, NASCAR’s Childress help build playhouse for Ozark five-year-old battling cancer

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 6:23 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s not often that you have a billionaire and a millionaire building a playhouse in the backyard for your child. That was the case for a family in Ozark as part of a very special project to help a five-year-old boy with cancer.

Cars lined the street in front of a house in a southern subdivision of Ozark on Friday morning as 28 volunteers from Bass Pro were busy putting together an elaborate playhouse to surprise Quentin Birch.

“He was diagnosed when he was three years old with Rhabdomyosarcoma of the prostate and bladder,” explained his mother, Leah Birch. “He had a 10-centimeter tumor which is about the size of a grapefruit and we did three months of radiation treatment and now at this point its shrunk down to the size of a kidney bean. He finished treatment in August of this year but it’s pretty tough being a parent when your child is diagnosed with cancer. It’s devastating. You just feel so helpless.”

But on Friday Quentin’s parents watched with smiles and disbelief at what was happening in their backyard as the volunteer staff included two famous faces Bass Pro Founder Johnny Morris and NASCAR Racing Team Owner and former driver Richard Childress.

It was truly a sight to behold as a pair of well-known leaders of major corporations (Morris is a billionaire, Childress a millionaire) started grabbing tools and getting down-and-dirty to put together not a race car or a corporate merger, but a playhouse.

“It’s humbling, it really is,” Leah said. “We just knew some volunteers were coming out. It’s just amazing to have all these people care about your child.”

“It takes teamwork to do this,” Morris said as he pointed to all his fellow volunteers. “And I think half the work I did had to be undone and redone.”

But actually, the job went like clockwork, completed in just an hour-and-a-half thinks to the leadership of ROC Solid, a Virginia-based non-profit foundation that’s built thousands of playhouses in its 12-year history including about 500 this year.

Eric Newman, a 32 year survivor of cancer himself, founded ROC Solid. The foundation primarily provides backpacks with toiletries and items for overnight hospital visits to cancer patient families. But Newman added the playhouse building after realizing the effect it could have on pediatric cancer patients.

“The reality is when a child is diagnosed with cancer the first thing that’s taken from them is the ability to play,” Newman said. “But ROC Solid, with the help of our partners, is on a mission to defeat cancer by playing. And every time a family looks at a playhouse that is built, guess what they’re not thinking about? Cancer. That’s why we truly believe we can bring hope to a horrible situation. This playset is truly what hope looks like.”

And sure enough, when a blindfolded Quentin was led to the backyard for the big reveal, he hit the ground running. He immediately started climbing all over the structure that includes a slide, swings, climbing wall, and an enclosed play area.

He had a one-word description of his new gift.

“Cool!”

“Now he’s just going to hang out here all the time,” Leah said with a laugh. “We might have to put up some more walls because that’s his bedroom now. He can just play and be a kid and not have to worry about cancer. He’s out there playing and living his best life right now.”

Childress, whose NASCAR race team is based in North Carolina, is in Missouri for a race this weekend in Kansas City. But he got involved with ROC Solid four years-ago and has helped build around 20 playhouses.

“To be able to come out and watch Quentin smile, it never gets old,” he said. “I hope I never build another one because that would mean cancer is gone. But if we have to, I want to make a difference.”

There’s no doubt the group made a difference on this day. There were smiles all around and the good news is Quentin’s prognosis is looking better.

“He is in remission right now,” Leah said. “In November he goes in for his first scans post-treatment to see if he’s still clear.”

But for now there’s reason to be optimistic, especially after a group of dedicated volunteers just proved there’s still some good in the world.

“We feel blessed here in the Ozarks,” Morris said. “People have a lot of pride but they have big hearts too. It’s a special part of the world. And my biggest contribution today is I got to give Quentin and his brother a couple of fishing poles and wish them happy fishin’.”

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