The impact a person can have on an entire community can be stunning, even if that person is with us far too briefly. Eli Reischl enriched those around him during his life of just under 4 years, and although illness took him from us in 2017, he continues to stimulate conversations and action to make his community more inclusive today through the Eli’s Park Project. His mom Paige, dad Bryan, and older brothers Jaxon and Wesley share with us the beautiful ideals he inspired.
Will you share your family’s story and how Eli impacted your lives?
“When we found out Eli, our third boy, had Down syndrome we were shocked and, I’m embarrassed to admit, heartbroken. The next 19 weeks of pregnancy we researched and read, prepared and worried and met Dr. Partridge who tried to warn us that babies who happen to have Down syndrome are more beautiful and amazing than we could imagine. She was so right. Our sweet boy brought our family, and everyone he met, unsurpassable amounts of love and joy. And he introduced us to a whole new world we never even knew we wanted and needed so much. Eli opened our minds and expanded our hearts forever. Our family calls Eli our wayfinder. He left us a legacy of love and a path to follow toward a more inclusive world. I know my life will never be as bright and beautiful as it was with Eli in it, and I hold firmly the knowledge that it will be brighter and more beautiful for others because he was.”
What should people know about your loss and grief?
“I’m still learning about this. What people may not know is how much their positivity, love and enthusiasm have truly held me up. I think the depth of grief mirrors the height of joy. It’s hard to choose Eli-like joy, knowing the pain it will always be paired with, but I’m trying. It’s impossible to remember Eli any other way.”
What was your inspiration for Eli’s Park?
“Traveling through life everyday with Eli is the greatest honor I’ve ever known. He smiled at everyone, hugged anybody who got within arms’ reach and danced when people’s cell phones rang. He heard music in everything and saw the beauty in everyone. Mostly we were met with kindness, but sometimes fear. I don’t blame anyone, because I know that when we’re afraid to say or do the wrong thing we often do nothing. But for the first time in my white, middle class, privileged life – I experienced being invisible. I felt the devastating impact of wondering if my baby would be misjudged, mistreated or ignored. But maybe even more importantly, I saw, in Eli, the beauty and joy we can miss if we allow even one member of our community to be excluded. Eli’s physical therapist, Shawn, and I started talking about why so many amazing people were missing from our everyday lives. And what it would take to bring more people together. We talked about the places we found community, felt included and inspired and they were always outside. That’s where this idea really began, before we lost Eli, after he opened our eyes to a whole new world.”
What has been the process of developing a new park?
“It’s been all about partnerships. Without the support of Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Parks Foundation and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, we couldn’t have a project. And none of those partnerships would be possible without the support of all the businesses, organizations and individual members of our community. We’ve had to learn to balance our sense of urgency with patience. It took a lot more time than we imagined at first, but that ultimately allowed us to build a larger and more diverse community around the project.”
How have you reached out for support in the community?
“I don’t think we should even say the community has supported this project. Our community IS this project. I see us as kind-of gatherers of information, experiences, challenges, hopes and dreams. Our whole team is dedicated to centering our community’s voices in the design. When we hired Site Workshop and Hannah Viano to lead our design team, we chose them in part because they’re brilliant, creative and the best landscape architects and artists around; and in part because they are authentic with their outreach, genuinely want to learn from people and are committed to creating a space where everybody belongs. They have carefully and lovingly taken every interaction with our community and translated it into design concepts and details. We’re so proud of the way our community’s needs are represented in the plans.”
How has the community responded to the Eli’s Park project?
“We have been inspired, amazed and so grateful for everyone who’s joined our project. People want community. From the mother who texted to say she can’t wait to have a park where her daughter isn’t weird, to the 16-year-old young woman of color who expressed she just wants to go to a park and know that people will be nice to her, to the 96-year-old-woman who said all she needs is a bench under a tree. The resounding message we hear over and over is: I want to belong.”
Are there any stand out moments as you’ve taken this journey since losing Eli?
“Shortly after we lost sweet Eli, our family took a walk on the Burke-Gilman trail. When we got home our middle son, Wesley, said, ‘We didn’t talk to anyone. That would never happen if Eli was here.’ I think back to that moment a lot. Inclusion is more than a value or an idea. It’s more than a program or a playdate. I think real inclusion is a constant choice to live life reaching out and welcoming in.”
Where are you in the process of opening the park?
“We’re wrapping up the planning phase right now. We are close to having a concept plan which will be the foundation for the new space. (And is REALLY beautiful!) We’re currently working closely with Seattle Parks and Recreation to ensure that we have a plan that both honors the needs of our community and is possible to maintain. We all want a park that will be beautiful, loved and used for many years to come. The next phase is design development where there will be lots of changes, adjustments, additions and many more opportunities to provide feedback.”
How can we get involved in the Eli’s Park project?
“People can join our mailing list and follow us on Facebook to stay posted. They can share our project with others. Those who are able to give time can pledge hours to help us meet our match for the next Neighborhood Matching Funds grant cycle. Those who are able to give money can donate. But really, when I think about how we can have the biggest impact on creating a more inclusive community, I think of Eli. And I try my best to smile my brightest smile to everyone I see. That’s something we can all do.”
Website/mailing list: https://www.elispark.org/
Paige’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org