In Columbiana, Ohio, the Nicest Place in America, Nobody Gets Left Behind
Here’s a great piece of “Positive News” to get you through the rest of the week. Columbiana is “Community Inspired”.
From MSN News by Jeremy Greenfield
Everyone in Columbiana knows Ryan Houck. He’s not a politician or a prominent businessman or a beloved local doctor. He’s not the baker who donates freely to support causes of every kind. He’s not the real-estate developer who offers a year rent-free to promising entrepreneurs who may not have the resources to get started on their own. And he’s not the local philanthropist who returned to town after a lifetime away and donated $500,000 to rebuild the beloved Firestone Park. Read the FULL ARTICLE HERE.
He’s just a kid. And when you talk to his parents, they’ll tell you that on most days he doesn’t do much. He has a rare disease called Miller-Dieker syndrome that has limited his ability to move or speak. But that’s not why people know him in this growing town of 6,200, about 80 miles southeast of Cleveland. They know him because he’s a star.
When Ryan was born, his diagnosis sent his parents Dan and Meghan reeling. “All the dreams and aspirations you had for your child kind of vanish,” Meghan says. “We lost that hope of seeing him play in a baseball game or going to his school programs and seeing him on stage.”
The Houcks retreated into themselves and mostly stayed at home with Ryan. They didn’t even discuss how they felt about Ryan’s diagnosis for fear of upsetting each other. Then, in 2015, when Ryan was just 18 months old, a local company called Crown Theater Productions announced that it would be putting on a musical and that all the actors would be people with special needs. The show was Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and the company needed someone to play King Triton, the merman-demigod who wields a lightning-shooting trident. The director thought Ryan would be perfect for the part.
So, one night in October, Ryan went on center stage, strapped to his mother, and acted out lines boomed by his father backstage. He stole the show.
“It was like watching him hit that home run that we thought we would never get to see,” Meghan says.
Nestled in the green, rolling hills of eastern Ohio, about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Columbiana is a small town that’s been going through some changes. Downtown, restaurants now outnumber antique shops. There’s a new housing, golfing, and shopping development where Firestone Farm once stood. Men who used to gather for coffee in the morning outside of a place called Newtons now do it at McDonald’s, or not at all.
But one thing isn’t changing: Nobody gets left behind, from blue-collar workers, to retirees, to folks who sometimes need a little extra accommodation. In Columbiana, our Nicest Place in America for 2019, giving back without wanting anything in return is a way of life. A spirit of community infuses this town, just as it has for the better part of a century, ever since tire magnate Harvey Firestone donated 52 acres of land to create the sprawling Firestone Park. Time and again, residents come together to boost their neighbors, whether it’s volunteering with Project MKC to deliver diapers to needy moms or donating money to help the Columbiana Community Foundation offer more service grants.
Greg Aker, a pastor at the Upper Room Fellowship, a church in town, says that in Columbiana, no matter your station, you get pulled along by your neighbors’ kindness. “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers, you do unto me,” he says, quoting Jesus, adding quickly that “brothers” in this case is everyone, not just the faithful. “Columbiana is a community imbued with faith, but you don’t need to be a person of faith to be embraced by the community.”
“A certain morale, an ethic, is instilled in everyone here from a young age,” is how Mayor Bryan Blakeman puts it. “It’s a pay-it-forward mentality.”