Columbiana is a nice place. But is it the Nicest Place in America? We’ll see.
The city has already been selected as the Nicest Place in Ohio by Reader’s Digest magazine. Now it’s in the running for that title for the whole country.
Anyone can vote, and it can be done online at columbianaohio.gov, where there is a link, or rd.com. Deadline is July 21.
How did Columbiana get this honor?
It all begins with Crown Theater Productions, and its program for special-needs people.
May Lou Wilson of the Columbiana area began taking her 36-year-old grandson, Clayton Kerrigan, to Crown and immediately noticed a difference. So she sent a letter to Reader’s Digest nominating Columbiana, because it is the home of Crown.
Wilson didn’t know what to expect the first time she took Kerrigan to the theater program.
“Like a lot of us, [Kerrigan] wants to make friends,” Wilson told the magazine. “But sometimes he doesn’t know how.”
When Wilson picked up her grandson after his first visit, she said “he had the biggest smile on his face.”
She said Kerrigan had been through countless support programs, but nothing ever touched him like the time he spends with the Crown Theater troupe.
Crown pairs special-needs people with actors and gives them roles in plays.
“After the first play, it was pure, unadulterated joy,” Wilson said. “These kids change. And I saw the change in my grandson.”
Crown Theater is based in beautiful Main Street Theater, which is owned by Don Arthurs and his wife, Dawn. The couple, purchased and renovated the venue about a decade ago, are dedicated to faith-based causes and entertainment.
Debbie Salmen, director of Crown, said she would like to see the special-needs theater program – which was started in 2016 – go nationwide.
“It helps them verbally and socially, and also their families,” said Salmen. “The families now have a core group to share things they are going through with.”
Salmen said Crown is planning to take the special-needs actors to Disney World in February for a theater competion. They would be the first troupe with special-needs actor to enter the competition.
FIRST LOOK AT MICHAEL WEBER AT WARREN AMPHITHEATER
There is a lot going on this four-day weekend.
There’s a fireworks festival downtown today, Earth Wind and Fire at the Youngstown amp Friday, the Hot Rod Super Nationals are all weekend at Canfield Fairgrounds, the Youngstown Comic Con is Saturday and Sunday at Covelli, and don’t forget about the Mesopotamia Ox Roast.
But also don’t overlook Saturday’s concert at the Warren Community Amphitheater with Queen tribute band Queen Nation ($8). Because the opening act is Akron’s The Michael Weber Show.
The 21-year-old Weber is a bluesy guitar phenom. As the opening act, he will go on around 5 p.m. or shortly thereafter. So get there early. One day, you might be able to say you saw him first.
The Michael Weber Show will also play a free concert at Youngstown’s Morley Pavilion at 7 p.m. July 17.
Weber, by the way, won MTV’s “Amazingness” television talent-variety show last year.
Guy D’Astolfo covers entertainment for The Vindicator. Follow him on Twitter at @VindyVibe.