NEW PORT RICHEY
Family. That's the most important thing in the world to the Burnetts — Carmen and Greg and their children, 12-year-old Courtney and 11-year-old Gregory.
Family is what brought Carmen Burnett to Florida as a 13-year-old. Her family was living in Michigan when the health of her grandparents, who had retired to the New Port Richey area, started failing. It was the start of the extended family's migration to Florida.
When she married and had a family, she stayed near her parents, who had stayed near theirs.
That's how they ended up in the modest one-story home on the far west end of New Port Richey, a 4.6-square-mile town of about 15,000 located 30 miles northwest of Tampa.
The picturesque community has the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Cotee River running through its heart, yet it remains affordable with a median home price of $88,100, according to zillow.com.
The town has a small-town feel and great parks, coincidentally the two amenities the Burnett children cited when asked why they like living there.
Courtney, who is homeschooled and sings worship and pop songs in a band of two called the Outsiders, said, "I like it because it's not so big and all my family lives here."
Her little brother, Gregory, who plays baseball, soccer and hockey, said he likes it "because it's close to Wendy's and Subway, their church and nice parks."
The park Gregory plays in with his friends is Eagle Point, a 15-acre nature park with three fishing piers and a kayak launch.
But it's Sims Park on the Cotee River downtown that is widely known. That's the site of the annual dayslong Chasco Fiesta, which honors the city's American Indian culture.
It's also the site of the Cotee River Seafood & Blues Fest. (The 14th annual festival will be held April 26-28.)
Greg Burnett, who works in Oldsmar and used to work in Tampa, likes living in New Port Richey because of its convenient location.
And Carmen Burnett, a stay-at-home mom, likes it in large part because of what she has made it: a place that has an active moms group, Growing Great Moms, which she started as a support group but has evolved into an active community of homeschoolers.
She's a second-generation homeschooler. She was taught at home by her mother and credits it with giving her a lot of experiences she would not have had in a more structured school environment. She said she was doing radio voice-overs when she was 14 and helped at a nursing home. It gave her the latitude to travel to Florida for extended periods to stay with her grandparents when she was growing up.
New Port Richey was ripe for such a movement, she said. Her moms group now has about 75 families with about 80 percent of them homeschooling.
"There are private and charter schools in the area, but from Hudson to Holiday, there really aren't any," she said. "And there's a lot more support for homeschoolers now. It's easier to find co-ops, tutors, evaluators and all the other resources."
Courtney has always been homeschooled, but Gregory, who they thought would benefit from a more structured environment, has been at Day Spring Academy in Port Richey. Homeschooling remains an option for him.
Whatever happens, the Burnetts have no plans to leave their cozy home five minutes from the grandparents, down the street from the church where Carmen sings and the park where Gregory plays baseball with his friends.
Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746.