Columbiana, OH

"City with a small town heart"

A firefighter in training practices hosing down a house at the Heroes and Haloes Interactive Health Fair. (Credit: Ginny Perkins) 

There are about 6,000 reasons to call Columbiana one of the Nicest Places in America, as every one of the 6,000-plus residents is a treasure in themselves. Collectively, they make our little city truly a beautiful place to live, work, and play.

In an economically suffering Northeast Ohio, you might expect to find folks who are vocal and bitter about their struggles. Instead, you will find generous, joyous, big-hearted people who band together to make things work and life beautiful. From large community projects like a Main Street renovation to more intimate and personal ones like meeting the needs of handicapped residents, the locals of Columbiana are there for each other in so many different ways.

Stories About Columbiana

Kelli Hephner’s life has not been an easy one, but she’s a textbook overcomer! She has generously chosen to give rather than grump, so you’ll find her giving to Columbiana in so many ways. As a local EMT, Kelli was very familiar with the needs of the underserved. The needs of those with handicapped family members particularly touched her heart. Rather than just sympathize, Kelli chose to take action, forming a non-profit organization called Heroes and Halos in 2012. Her winning personality quickly convinced many in the community to share her passion, so the mission of Heroes and Haloes exploded locally with:

  • Heroes and Halos Safety and Interactive Health Fair. Heroes and Halos have sponsored this educational event for several years. Firemen and police invite the townspeople to check out their vehicles, and kids get a chance to hold the firehose as water comes pulsing out! There is a health fair, petting zoo, food vendors, games and prizes, an opportunity to be a part of the giving tree, and drop off supplies for families caring for handicapped relatives.
  • Family Fun Nights. Family Fun Nights are held quarterly, with special emphasis on holidays. The event was created with special needs individuals and their families in mind, but the entire community is always invited. Dinner is served and special evening activities usually include games, crafts, and etc.
  • Heroes and Halos Special Needs Ball. To date, Heroes and Halos and their Student Ambassadors have hosted three Annual Special Needs Balls. These special events include dinner and dancing, and is for the entire family, including nurses, caregivers, staff, and friends. Everyone is welcome to attend and have a fantastic night where they can kick back and have fun as a team and a family (special attire is provided!) Photographers help preserve the memories for all the attendees.
  • Guardian Angels Support Group. The Guardian Angels is a faith based parent-to-parent support system for parents, family members, guardians, and caregivers of individuals with special needs. This is Heroes and Halos family ministry focuses on love, acceptance, and finding self worth.
  • Special Needs Fun Run 5K. With several races to include all participants. this event offers the opportunity for kids to participate in the fun of a 5K. Awards are given and fun is had by all!
  • Day of Beauty. Heroes and Halos organized this event with the caretakers and moms of the handicapped in mind. They coordinate with the county cosmetology school to give those folks a day of pampering that they rarely have time for, but are so deserving of.
  • Student Ambassador Program. This is a faith-based youth organization that operates in conjunction with Heroes and Halos. The mission statement of the student ambassadors is “Be Courageous and Stand Up for Others.” Kelli teaches and encourages these kids to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves by giving them opportunities to reach out to the needy in the community. She is teaching them that as long as we stand up for others, the world will be a better place.
Runners set their marks at the Heroes and Halos Special Needs 5K, which has races of varying lengths so all runners can participate. (Credit: Ginny Perkins)

Don Arthur’s life was on a regular path as a part-owner in a small Youngstown-based tech company, married with a family, and living in his hometown of Columbiana. When his company developed a highly desired product, Don’s life changed dramatically. After experiencing success with the product, he shifted his focus to community. Though their options were wide as the sky, Don and his family made the decision to stay in Columbiana and share their blessings.

The center of town was home to a theater that had long been out of business. At considerable expense to them, the Arthurs decided to purchase the building in 2007, taking on the expansive project of remodeling the theater and preparing it for use as a live, local performance venue. After a successful reopening to a grateful community, it eventually became a popular spot for locals to exercise their theatrical abilities — and for others to enjoy those abilities! Hundreds of people began to volunteer their time for the various productions, keeping the theater alive as a hub of community activity. Crown Theater, a non-profit organization, was formed in 2011 by Don and two other community members to oversee productions, appointing Deb Salmen as executive director.

A rehearsal at the Crown Theater isn’t complete without jazz hands! (Credit: Ginny Perkins)

In early 2016, Deb was invited to another community to attend a church performance of The Lion King featuring children with special needs. Deb was moved to tears by the simple performance…and she was also moved to action. She asked herself, “Why couldn’t Crown Theater sponsor a special-needs show?” With the assistance of volunteer director Eric Offenberg, she presented the idea to the board of directors, who enthusiastically gave the go-ahead for such a production. Thanks to donations from the Columbiana Community Foundation, the theater introduced The Little Mermaid special needs production to the area. Handicapped folks from 18 months to 40 years participated in the show. Prior to the opening, the thrilled participants walked the red carpet to an applauding crowd. As the show progressed, the audience was awed by the wonderful performance. It’s an experience one doesn’t quickly forget. Now community members from all walks of life assist in the performances and the local Chamber of Commerce awards Hollywood stars to the proud participants. Crown Theater considers the special needs performances one of its most important outreaches, due to the effect those shows have had on the participants and their families. Deb’s vision is to see special needs performances run across the nation.