When a child has cancer, acts of kindness from others shine especially bright.
That was certainly true for Berkeley Electric Cooperative’s Blake Brown, whose infant son, Beckham, was diagnosed with cancer in February. Since then, Brown and his and girlfriend, Taylor Grooms, have been going nonstop, taking 15-month-old Beckham to doctor and chemotherapy appointments, shuttling their daughter, 4-year-old Ryleigh, to caregivers’ homes, and, of course, reporting for work.
Brown’s co-workers recently gave the family a break from worry and stress during a festive morning at the Moncks Corner, South Carolina-based co-op when they built them a large wooden playhouse. Following pandemic safety guidelines, about two dozen volunteers built the house in about two and a half hours in a spacious truck bay.
“We’re really blessed with a great group of friends,” said Brown, a lead distribution designer at the co-op. “This will be a great, great pleasure for the kids to be able to get out, do something different and play together.”
Beckham Brown has pediatric neuroblastoma, a cancer found in the small glands on top of the kidneys. According to his father, the boy’s doctors said neuroblastoma has a high recovery rate, especially in very young patients.
“For some reason, if anyone less than a year old gets it, their body reacts very well to chemotherapy,” said Brown. “Of course, cancer is a bad thing to get, but if you were going to choose a cancer to get, you’d choose this.”
During it all, co-workers have helped the family with prepared meals and were considering a fundraiser. But then Tim Mobley, vice president of engineering and operations, learned about a project that would provide an opportunity for the co-op to support the young family.
“Ashley Edens, our board assistant, showed me a promotional video about a program where you build playhouses for children with cancer and said maybe it was something we could do for Beckham,” said Mobley. “It looked great. She got approval from our CEO [Dwayne Cartwright] to buy the kit. I also told her, ‘Oh, by the way, put me down to help.’”
The co-op worked with the KLH Group, which organizes corporate volunteer projects for children with serious medical conditions. Since 2016, the Charleston-based organization has sponsored clubhouse “builds” for 50 families nationwide, and there’s a waiting list for more.
“Knowing that Berkeley Electric has a heart for community service, we approached the co-op and said, ‘We know you’ve been doing a lot for the Browns, but is this a project you’d be interested in?’ Within minutes they said yes,” said Hope Caldwell, the group’s director, who learned about the family from a colleague whose husband works at BEC.
With the go-ahead secured, the co-op bought the building kit for the 7-by-8-foot playhouse from the KLH Group, which buys pre-cut lumber and tools from building supply companies and then ships materials to the volunteer site. KLH staff guides workers during the build, and Lowe’s delivers the houses to families’ homes.
“Our team makes sure all the parts and pieces are laid out so that when the guests arrive, it’s all turnkey. They just have to put it together,” said Caldwell.
Despite pandemic restrictions, the Aug. 6 event still had the trappings of an “experience,” as the group calls it, with music, snacks and beverages. Teams of masked volunteers worked in shifts inside a warehouse, and the entire family attended. Ryleigh and her cousins painted shutters and a local TV news crew covered the occasion.
After a weeklong rain delay, the house was delivered to the Browns’ backyard.
“Once people heard about it, we could have had enough volunteers to build 12 houses,” said Mobley. “When you do these projects, it blesses you as much as it blesses the person.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.