Friday, January 20, 2012

Caution: Here Be Dragons

Did you know that Pasadena has a park made especially for little pirates? Last April, the city opened Reese's Retreat at Brookside Park. (Walk east from the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center and you'll find it tucked behind the pools.) Reese's Retreat is the region's first universally accessible playground for kids of all ages and abilities -- and it's so cool that the even the most exhausted parent will be tempted to get off the park bench and join in the fun.

The entire setting resembles a pirate ship, complete with bells that clang and wheels that turn and even a plank for the most scurrilous little scallywags to walk. There are multiple levels to explore either by climbing or by using ramps. The setting offers kids of all physical abilities a safe place to scramble around. Even the soft, rubberized ocean floor is wheelchair-friendly.

The design is beautiful, blending into the landscape both playfully and artfully with lots of natural elements and neutral colors. The playground equipment offers the standard variety of things to climb up and slide down, but it also encourages exercise of the imagination with enough high seas props to inspire your inner Jack Sparrow. (Honestly, try not to bust out a hardy "Arrrrrr!" while pretending to hoist one of the ship's sails.) In a word: wonderful.

It all makes me wonder why South Pasadena can't create something similar in Lower Arroyo Seco Park? We certainly have the right setting. For four years I've driven by our city's forgotten park and wished that the gorgeous space could be put to better use. Garfield Park and Orange Grove Park have lovely play areas with safe, charming equipment while Arroyo Seco Park looks like a forgotten leftover from The Wonder Years.

I know there is a certain hipster fascination with rusting jungle gyms from the 1960s, but wouldn't it be more fun to have a safe playscape that local kids (and their parents) could actually enjoy? Not to mention the fact that our large, isolated park area attracts a certain element that really should walk the plank...

I guess it would take a bit of pirate treasure to make it happen, huh?

12 comments:

Judy Williams said...

Shiver me timbers!! That is a spectacular silhouetted image! It conjures up all sorts of thoughts of parrots on shoulders, peg legs and the like.

Maybe a movement needs to be started to revamp the dilapidated one. Hmmm I know a few people who could do just that. ;)

dbdubya said...

There is quite a story behind the history of Reese's retreat which was inspired by the short life of Reese Elliott. The story of Reese shows that great things can come out of what appear to be tragic circumstances.

Reese was born very prematurely and spent the first few months in the hospital. As is often the case, Reese's parents, Marchelle and James, had nowhere to stay near the hospital which only added to their burden. This inspired Marchelle to look for a solution so other parents will not have as difficult a time. She located two abandoned houses on Cal-Trans property across the street from Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena. Undeterred by the bureaucracies of the State of California and City of Pasadena, Marchelle was able obtain a long term lease with the State, obtain the proper zoning, create a non-profit foundation, establish a board of directors, and raise sufficient money to rehab the two houses. The first was opened as a hospitality house for the parents of children with long term hospital stays. A short time later the non-profit became affiliated with the McDonalds Corporation and the two craftsman homes are now the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House thanks to the efforts of Marchelle Sellers and the inspiration of her son, Reese.

Reese, who was severely disabled, loved pirates. So Marchelle embarked on another mission to create a park with a pirate theme for disabled children. She located the property and worked with the City of Pasadena to create this special place for special needs children. It was dedicated last April.

Sadly, Reese passed away at about the age of 13 several years ago. After serving as the Executive Director of the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House for several years, Marchelle has moved on and is now the Executive Director of another non-profit that helps special needs children - Mending Kids International. MKI provides medical services to severely disabled children from third world countries.

Can one person with limited abilities make a difference? You bet they can. Reese Elliott and the inspiration he provided to not only his mother, but the hundreds of volunteers and donors who saw Marchelle's vision of a park for special needs children and a safe, comfortable home for parents of hospitalized children is proof of that.

Kathy and I are honored to call Reese's dedicated, compassionate mother, Marchelle, our friend. She and her husband Dave and their son Graham are South Pasadena residents.

South Pas Mom said...

Laurie, I have thought the same thing about Arroyo park. It's scary to take kids there as it stands today. The equipment is old and unsafe and the drainage is terrible. When my son has baseball games I would love to have a nice playground to take his little sister.

DbDubya thanks for the details about Reese and his mom. What an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful shot.

Mister Earl said...

You need to know someone from the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Mister Earl said...

DBW: Great story and information. Is Reese's Retreat only for disabled kids or for any kids?

dbdubya said...

I believe it's available to everyone but was designed specifically to be accessible to all. Unfortunately, we moved before the park was dedicated and I haven't seen it in person.

Laurie said...

It's available to all kids -- and grownups, too. :-) There is challenging, fun equipment for all abilities. Little Bit particularly loves the part of the pirate ship that rocks back and forth like a boat on stormy seas.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Laurie, I wish we could make it happen in Arroyo Park. All of the moms I know on that side of town wish we could meet for playdates there but it's just too run down.

Mary

TheChieftess said...

It's amazing what individuals can do when inspired...

Steve Scauzillo said...

You make some really good points about the Lower Arroyo. Might want to contact the Arroyo Seco Foundation, they might have some grant money.

Laurie said...

Thanks so much for this wonderful story, Db. This park is a beautiful, thriving, happy tribute to a special kid.