Columbiana Ohio was Named the 2019 Nicest Place in America

Where kindness is a way of life.

Nov 11, 2019

Anyone who watched the Andy Griffith show loves Mayberry, a small town in America where everyone knows your name and helping people is a way of life. Some people think that era has passed and life is radically different now. But in many places, the community spirit is still very much alive.

Now in its third year, Reader’s Digest’s Nicest Place in America contest seeks out these places where doing random acts of kindness and taking care of your neighbors is a way of life. The 2019 winner is Columbiana, a small town in Eastern Ohio.

Columbiana, population 6,200, according to Reader’s Digest is a place where, nobody gets left behind, from blue-collar workers, to the wealthy, to folks who sometimes need a little extra accommodation.”

While the town is going through some changes and some downtown stores are closing, it is still a picturesque community that has been infused with community spirit since Harvey Firestone, the tire magnet donated 52 acres of land to create Firestone Park almost a century ago according to Readers Digest

Since that time, the town’s residents have helped one another by volunteering with project MKC in order to help the Columbiana Community Foundation offer grants to people in need or just do good on their own.

Some of these townspeople include a baker who donates regularly to support causes and a real-estate developer who gives free rent for a year to promising entrepreneurs to help them get started.

But one story that tugs at the heart strings is the way the town rallied around a little boy named Ryan Houck. Ryan has a rare disease called Miller-Dieker syndrome that affects his ability to speak or move. But this town made him a star.

His parents Dan and Meghan were devastated by this diagnosis. “All the dreams and aspirations you had for your child kind of vanish,” Meghan told Readers Digest. “We lost that hope of seeing him play in a baseball game or going to his school programs and seeing him on stage.”

But in 2015, when Ryan was only 18 months old, a local theatre company called Crown Theater Productions announced that it was producing a version of Disney’s "The Little Mermaid", and all the actors would be people with special needs. They still had to fill the role of King Triton, the merman-demigod and the director thought Ryan would be perfect for the role.

So, in October of that year Ryan – strapped to his mother, and with his father backstage saying his lines – was the star of the show. It was like watching him hit that home run that we thought we would never get to see,” Meghan said.

Crown Theatre was one of the reasons that Columbiana was chosen but the community does so much more.

A certain morale, an ethic, is instilled in everyone here from a young age,” Mayor Bryan Blakeman said. “It’s a pay-it-forward mentality.”

Doing good is not just restricted to small towns. Large cities like Anaheim, California is known as the city of kindness after its Mayor Tom Tait started an initiative to have the school children do one million random acts of kindness.

Every place can become a kinder, more caring community. You can work to start the ball-rolling in your community and who knows, your town could be voted the nicest place in America or the UK, or just about anywhere in the world in 2020.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.