Civitan Smiles Park
An Inclusive Playground takes on far greater meaning when a community pulls together to embrace and honor the life of a child. Sadly, such a tragedy occurred multiple times in West Monroe, Louisiana, sparking the enormous community effort surrounding the birth of Civitan Smiles Park at Kiroli Park.
This 20,000-square-foot, $1 million dollar project was spearheaded by the West Monroe Civitan Club (WMCC), an affiliate of Civitan International, Inc., an organization of service clubs across the nation and around the world. A focus of theirs is aiding those with developmental disabilities. Benjamin Sirmon passed away at the age of three from a rare genetic disorder. His mother Hillary, a pediatric physical therapist, who had recently raised funds for a smaller inclusive community-built playground, and other families, with and without special needs children, rallied around the project, as did multiple large corporate donors and local service businesses who contributed materials and labor for the project.
For more than three decades the WMCC has sponsored the Ark-La-Miss Fair and used the proceeds of the fair to support worthy causes throughout northeast Louisiana. Every year the WMCC dedicates one day to persons with different abilities so they can attend at no charge. Junior Civitan from local high schools serving as "buddies," provide guidance and companionship. In turn, this experience gives the "buddies" the chance to reach beyond the disability barrier, giving children a hands-on opportunity to learn from their peers with different abilities.
Seeing the smiles on children's faces enjoying their day at the Fair left the WMCC dreaming of a place where all children and their families could experience that joy every day! This was the moment the WMCC named their park project... Smiles.
In March 2013 the WMCC agreed to spearhead the playground project and made an initial contribution of $200,000. West Monroe provided a location within Kiroli Park and agreed to construct a fully accessible pavilion to accompany the playground. It was named 'Benjamin's Shelter.' The city also agreed to accept ownership and maintenance of the playground once completed.
Shane's Inspiration, a non-profit organization dedicated to the establishment of inclusive playgrounds across the country and overseas, designed the playground around a carnival theme, and will coordinate outreach and education through their social inclusion program, Together We Are Able, to help fulfill the park's mission...bringing all children together to play and learn!