Havelock is no Los Angeles, but for Heather Penney, Havelock is home.
"I love the people," she said. "They’re just so friendly when you go somewhere. It’s not like they give you a look. Out here I can pass by somebody I know every day. They wave to you. You just know this is home. It feels like that."
Penney grew up in Los Angeles and came to Havelock as a flight attendant.
"It was busy all the time, and you didn’t feel closeness like you do here," she said. "There are a lot of green trees here. I like the changes in the weather."
The consumer advocacy website NerdWallet ranked Havelock as the 10th best city in North Carolina for young families, a designation that didn’t surprise the Penney family.
"It’s very personal," said husband Michael Penney. "People are a lot more friendly. It’s an actual community. It feels like you’re part of one huge family."
Michael Penny has lived in Havelock for nine years, and wife Heather has been here for 19. The couple has four children.
"The people here are so easy to get along with and make friends with," Michael Penney said. "It’s so picturesque. To be able to take 20 minutes and go to the ocean is just wonderful. The community projects that you see going on around here for families and children, the respect that everyone has for the military and for my background in law enforcement is phenomenal."
According to a release, NerdWallet factored in the quality of public schools, average home value, cost of home ownership, average income and economic growth to create an overall score. The nine places ahead of Havelock in the rankings were all near bigger metropolitan cities such as Charlotte or Raleigh. Havelock was the only city east of Interstate 95 in the top 10.
"It has a small town feel because we were involved in the community either with the school or through the church," said Kelli Kirwan, who with Marine husband Charles Kirwan has raised six children in their nine years in Havelock. "We were able to know a lot of different people. It’s a very military friendly community."
She said the family decided to stay in Havelock even when her husband was transferred to Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville.
"We opted to stay in Havelock because we were settled in the community," she said. "We had a good support system between our church family and the youth sports our children were a part of. We didn’t want to leave that."
NerdWallet mentioned outdoor recreational activities in its survey, and Havelock-area schools rated a seven on a scale of one to 10.
"The teachers really dedicate themselves and they care about your child," Heather Penney said. "The teachers will get up with you not just for bad things but to let you know that your child did this great thing today. You know they’re getting the education they need and they’re safe and cared about when they’re not in your home. I like that they’re close to home so that I can be there in a matter of minutes if I need to be."
The survey said that Havelock had seen strong growth since 1999, while the cost of home ownership remained a comparatively low $1,269 per month.
"We found that the house was affordable," Kirwan said. "Most everything is pretty affordable much more so than if we had gotten sent to the West Coast, especially with such a large family. We were more than happy with Havelock."
However, she said the family would soon be moving to Texas when her husband retires.
"It’s been positive," she said. "When we leave Havelock, we will leave with very, very good memories and some great friendships. We’ve been here the longest we’ve been anywhere."
Morrisville, located between Raleigh and Durham, was ranked as the top city in the state for young families, according to NerdWallet, followed by Mooresville, Holly Springs, Indian Trail, Apex, Chapel Hill, Matthews, Cary and Wake Forest.
For a complete look at the survey, go online to www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2013/best-north-carolina-towns-young-families.