Planting New Roots in Charlotte

How to make Charlotte feel like home when you're new to the area.

Lucy Dunn, center, and her cousins at the Rural Hill First Footin’ New Year celebration in Huntersville.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., Charlotte and its surrounding suburbs are full of new families looking to call the Queen City home. Relocating, however, is not without its challenges, particularly when children are involved. It takes time, effort and an open mind to fully embrace such a transition. Three local families share their relocation experiences and offer advice for how to make the move easier for everyone involved.

Taking Time to Explore  

A job opportunity brought April Dunn, her husband, and their daughter, Lucy, to Huntersville from Greenville, S.C., in July 2014. They soon joined a local church and met their neighbors. 

“We met our neighbors pretty quickly and had friends from church so we had a community there, which made the transition very easy,” Dunn says. “Having that base and someone you could call in case of an emergency was a big deal.”

The Dunns read local publications, listened to local radio stations, and reached out to friends and neighbors to learn about Huntersville and surrounding areas. They became members of The Mint Museum and Historic Rural Hill, and became regular visitors of the Huntersville public library, museums in uptown Charlotte, and Historic Latta Plantation. Dunn became active with the Cornelius Community Garden. They saw plays and performances by the Davidson Community Players, and enjoyed the Carolina Renaissance Festival and the Rural Hill Scottish Festival. Lucy, who plays the violin, joined the Cornelius Youth Orchestras, which Dunn says is a unique program that has been a wonderful way for her daughter to meet other children while doing something she loves.

“We mostly just keep our ears to the ground so we know what is going on,” Dunn says. “If you are into the arts and music, there are a lot of things to see and do for a reasonable price between Davidson and uptown. There’s great shopping, and everything is very convenient.”

Taking time to explore the area and immerse themselves in the culture helps the Dunns feel at home. They often choose a town, drive to its Main Street, and get out and walk around, stopping at interesting shops, restaurants and attractions they see along the way.

“Get out of the car and walk,” Dunn says. “You’ll miss things when you drive by.”

Asher Fox outside the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in uptown Charlotte.

Exploring was also an important part of Amy Wallas Fox’s relocation to Charlotte’s Sedgefield neighborhood. Although she is a Charlotte native, Wallas Fox lived in Atlanta for 12 years before she and her husband moved back in 2012. She was pregnant with their first child and they wanted to be closer to family and enjoy a lower cost of living. After her son was born, she became active with the online forum Charlotte Mommies and joined some Facebook groups that connect local parents. But the family really got to know the city simply by walking around.

They discovered that eight of the corporate buildings in uptown connect to one another via a skywalk and have family-friendly activities inside, such as the Childress Klein YMCA, Charlotte’s Overstreet Mall, an Amélie’s French Bakery and Café, and a number of other restaurants. Wallas Fox says this is one of their favorite places to go when it’s too hot or too cold to be outdoors.

“It’s a way of getting the energy out when the weather may not be the best,” she says. “And we have met a few other parents doing that.”

Since having a second child, they discovered daily story times at ImaginOn and performances at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. Wallas Fox says they often make a day of it, getting breakfast, visiting the 7th Street Public Market, and taking a ride on the trolley or train. 

“We just explore by going to uptown, walking around, and finding new things.”

Danny O’Hagan playing on a Lake Norman beach.

Making Connections 

Attracted to the slower pace of lake life and the mild winter, Stephanie O’Hagan and her husband relocated from New York in November 2010 to a subdivision in Denver. By attending neighborhood barbecues and holiday gatherings, O’Hagan discovered that many of their neighbors were also transplants looking to meet new people and create a sense of community. 

“We got to know our neighbors and found out that the majority of families in our community were transplants as well, who had little to no family here,” O’Hagan says. 

Through her new network of neighbors, she learned about places to dine and shop and also got suggestions on doctors and dentists. When her son Danny was 6 months old, O’Hagan began taking him to Gymboree classes, which offered him socialization with other babies and allowed O’Hagan to meet other mothers. She learned about Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville, swim lessons at the YMCA, the Community Arts Project in Cornelius, and the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Birkdale Village that has a kid-friendly play area and regular story-time activities. 

She discovered a program at the Mooresville public library for babies. “While there I met more parents, learned more about the area, and met one mom in particular, who has since become a close friend,” she says. 

Family Traditions

For Jeannette Porowski, relocating to Davidson from Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband was rooted in family traditions, both old and new. The couple moved for a job opportunity in May 2011, and since moving have added two daughters to the their family. Like O’Hagan, Porowski soon realized that many of the families in their community and colleagues at work were also out-of-towners looking to make new connections. 

“Since there are a ton of transplants in Charlotte, we are always looking to connect with other young couples and families,” she says. “Not being afraid to strike up conversations with people is key.”

The family has made it a point to maintain their long-standing traditions that began back in Cleveland, such as getting a live Christmas tree at a tree farm, picking pumpkins in the fall, making chili and pumpkin cupcakes on Halloween, and having an appetizer party on Christmas Eve. But they also fill their lives with new traditions that are unique to Davidson, including Friday night takeout from their favorite local Thai restaurant, Saturday mornings at the Davidson Farmers Market and breakfast at the Famous Toastery, and Sunday morning walks at Fisher Farm or on the Davidson College cross-country trail.

“All of these things are quite simple but have made Davidson our home and are the roots of our family,” Porowski says. “Roots which can be picked up and taken anywhere.”

Emily Schappacher is a wife, mother, and writer based in Huntersville, North Carolina.

SEE ALSO: 5 Tips for Families New to Charlotte