Civitans take pride in the rich history of the organization. Members like to think of Civitan as one of the “big four” among service organizations along with Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions. So, when members visited Kiroli Park, in West Monroe, Louisiana, something was missing. Kiroli’s name stems from the first two letters of the other three service organizations who bought the land in 1925 as a gift to the Boy Scouts.

The idea for the playground began at the Ark-La-Miss Fair, which has been a fundraising project for the West Monroe Civitan Club for 30 years, explained club past-president, Matt West. “Each year they have opened the Fair for one day exclusively to children and adults with disabilities to come enjoy the festivities for free.” West said. “A little over 7 years ago several of the Civitan Club members were looking around during this time and someone said, ‘Would you look at the smiles on all of those faces.’ Hence the name Smiles Park. Another said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could give them something to enjoy everyday instead of this one day?’ Then one said, ‘Why don’t we build a playground?”

The popular park already featured tennis courts, hiking trails, gardens, and fishing ponds when local Civitan members approached the city about building an inclusive playground on the property. Local leaders got behind the project and helped the club find the perfect spot in the existing park. The club hosted a planning session with local therapists, educators and families and asked them all for input.

“The children were asked to dream of anything they would want in a playground and to draw it the best they could.” West said. The club worked with a company called Shane’s Inspiration who helped them design the park, pick a theme, and plan a budget based on the dreams of the children.

West Monroe Civitan members took the lead in fundraising for the project, which cost more than $1 million when finished, and the Civitan International SMILES Park opened in the summer of 2017. The fair-themed park features a Zip Krooz, teeter-totters, a sensory animal circle, and other playground equipment that is accessible to children with disabilities.

Since the park opened, the travel website has listed it as the #1 attraction in West Monroe. The success of the park has given Civitan a lot of recognition in the community and sparked more growth in the park. West Monroe Civitan has already worked with developers on another playground for younger children elsewhere in the park.

West says he expects attendance to top more than 250,000 people this year. ” Maybe one day, inclusive playgrounds will simply be known as just playgrounds,” he added.

To learn more about Civitan SMILES Park at Kiroli, visit @civitansmiles on Facebook.