Mom Fights for Universal Playground for Kids With Disabilities

Reese's mom wants all kids - including those with disabilities - to be able to play together.

There are more than 300,000 children with disabilities in California, but not very many places for them to safely play with other kids.

One Pasadena mother is trying to change that.

The playground at Brookside Park behind the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center is commonly known as "pirate's park," with a massive pirate ship at its center.

The playground draws hundreds of kids each month. But there's a hidden story behind this park.

This spot is actually called "Reese's Retreat." It's Pasadena's first universally-accessible playground designed with special equipment to appeal to all children, including with disabilities.

The half-acre oasis is the brainchild of Marchelle Sellers, a Pasadena mother who helped design the playground after her son Reese was born in 1992, premature and severely disabled.

"We were told in the very beginning he wouldn't survive 48 hours," Sellers said. "He had suffered severe brain hemorrhage at the time. It left him in a wheelchair and without the ability to walk and talk."

Reese, who loved pirates and super heroes, survived for 13 years, but his mother was unable to find any playgrounds that could accommodate his wheelchair.

They installed a special bucket swing at Pasadena's singer park.

"He loved it," Sellers said. "And he'd laugh and tell us he wanted to keep doing it more."
That bucket swing was just the beginning.

Sellers and the Pasadena Accessibility and Disability Commission lobbied to build a whole park for kids with special needs.

In 2011, Reese's Retreat came to life.

"First of all, children with disabilities - and he had multiple disabilities - need the vestibular input," Sellers said. "That comes with just swinging or rocking."

Sellers' son Graham plans to ask the Pasadena City Council to install a proper sign here so everyone will know that pirate's park is actually called Reese's Retreat in honor of his big brother after he died.

"I think about how he would have loved this," Graham said. "If people knew this park was here, if they had kids with disabilities or in a wheelchair, this would be the right park for them."

Sellers said she likes to come here and watch children experience the joy that Reese felt on that bucket swing all those years ago.

"It's pretty astounding," Sellers said. "What better place to come to when I miss him."

Reese's Retreat was built with a $1.2 million state grant. Sellers and her son are hoping to convince the Pasadena City Council to install a sign at Brookside Park to make it easier to find the playground, which is tucked behind the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center.

"Everybody came together at the same time," Sellers said. "This is important to us. We want to have this place in our city. We all worked hard because the kids deserve it." 

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