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10 Best Towns for Families: 2014

After searching the country for perfect places to call home, we chose these communities for their stellar schools, affordable housing and giving spirit.

By Seema Nayyar

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Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
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With the help of Onboard Informatics, a New York City research firm that provides real estate, demographic and other data, Family Circle assembled a list of 4,200 cities and towns with populations between 10,000 and 150,000. From that, nearly 1,400 localities having a high concentration of households with median incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 were selected. We then assessed which places best met our family-friendly criteria—including affordable homes, quality schools, access to health care, green space, low crime rate and financial stability—and ranked them from top to bottom. Family Circle selected the 10 winners from among the highest-rated towns.

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Westborough, Massachusetts

Population: 18,497
Median Income: $96,049
Median Home Price: $385,000
Households with Kids: 40%
GreatSchools Rating: 10

This leafy Boston suburb is a place where people love to mingle. Neil Feldman and his 16-year-old, Ben, for example, both play in a 75-member band that performs at free outdoor concerts in the summer. "We have kids as young as seventh grade playing with ex-professionals in their 70s," says Neil, 47, an IT director. "There's a connectivity across generations that's really special." Westborough's schools, which boast top AP scores and a roster of National Merit scholars, also emphasize diversity: Daughter Grete, 13, studied Africa all last year through a program that spanned four of her classes. Residents also reach across the aisle religion-wise, whether it's at the interfaith Thanksgiving service or the annual symposium for sixth-graders where clergy from local congregations field questions about their beliefs. "Neil is Jewish and I'm Christian," says wife Beth Terhune, 45, a part-time nurse and graduate student at the University of Massachusetts. "This is an open, welcoming community that accepts and supports us."

Good Deeds: A one-time fundraiser to collect crutches for a village in the Congo has now become a community-wide project, with Westborough residents donating books, glasses and medical supplies, as well as $3,500 for a school for the deaf in Rwanda.

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Camas, Washington

Population: 20,023
Median Income: $80,104
Median Home Price: $300,000
Households with Kids: 48%
GreatSchools Rating: 9

It's the simple pleasures that Steve Carter, 53, a retail manager, and wife Bonnie, 45, love about this picturesque Portland suburb. That includes hiking along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge or catching the parade at the summertime Camas Days festival, when reps from Georgia-Pacific (which operates a paper mill in town) toss rolls of TP at the crowd. "It's corny yet fabulous," says Bonnie. "Everybody waits for that float." With four tween and teen boys, the Carters also place a high premium on the school system, which has won multiple state and national honors. An educational foundation has awarded some $1.2 million in teacher grants since 1998, which went toward a Junior Grade book club at the elementary school Lucas, 8, attends and new vacuum pumps and microscopes for 13-year-old Jake's science class. "When I sat in, the kids were encouraged to think deep and not just express but support their ideas," says Bonnie. "I thought, 'Wow! I wish I could join!' "

Good Deeds: The local Community Chest raised some $80,000 last year for everything from swimming lesson scholarships to a nature conservation program for fifth-graders.

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Franklin, Tennessee

Population: 66,074
Median Income: $78,153
Median Home Price: $312,900
Households with Kids: 38%
GreatSchools Rating: 10

There's nothing the Brewster family likes more than merrily rolling along—the Harpeth River, that is. Jill, 48, a nurse, husband John, 49, a sales director, and kids Gabby, 16, John, 14, and Matthew, 13, regularly pack a picnic and go kayaking for hours in this Nashville suburb. "We have everything an outdoorsy person would want—minus the snow," says Jill. Residents revel in year-round events, from the Main Street Brew Fest and Franklin Rodeo in the spring to wine tasting in the fall. Schools are top-notch: At Franklin High, the first in the state to offer the International Baccalaureate program, the assistant principal meets with every freshman—all 420 of them—to offer support and encouragement. "Even residents without kids go to Friday night football and band competitions," says Jill. "We're all involved and busy. Nobody ever complains about being bored!"

Good Deeds: Forget the Grand Ole Opry—for the past 12 years local country musicians have performed in Franklin to help raise funds for BrightStone, a nonprofit that provides job training for adults with developmental disabilities.

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Westfield, Indiana

Population: 31,857
Median Income: $84,268
Median Home Price: $208,579
Households with Kids: 46%
GreatSchools Rating: 8

The gorgeous nature photos hanging in Kyle Alexander's home—farm fields, rustic barns, creatures great and small—aren't from vacations to faraway places but her own backyard. "All I have to do is look out my window for frame-worthy views," says Kyle, 49, a graphic designer and amateur shutterbug. It's only a short drive to Indianapolis, but Kyle, along with husband Todd, 50, an IT director, and kids Ahren, 21, and Jordyn, 18, prefer to spend time on a different road—the Monon Trail, an 18.5-mile biking and hiking path that links the capital to Westfield. Grand Park, a 400-acre mega sports complex, is a favorite family hangout, and the Alexanders can't wait to catch outdoor concerts at the new amphitheater being planned for downtown. Housing is affordable and the schools are stellar, but what Kyle loves most about her hometown is the sense of community. "Last winter our neighbor cleared the snow from our driveway, even though we have a blower," she says. "What can I say? Folks are friendly here."

Good Deeds: The Westfield Youth Assistance Program pairs mentors and tutors with hundreds of kids ages 3 to 17, boosting grades and self-esteem.

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Woodbury, Minnesota

Population: 63,367
Median Income: $93,456
Median Home Price: $250,000
Households with Kids: 43%
GreatSchools Rating: 9

Kids in this Twin Cities suburb are in good company. Over two-fifths of households have children—a real plus for Rhonda and Craig Arnold and their brood of six (Trent, 24, Izaya, 14, Braydon, 11, Amyah, 11, Makiah, 9, and Micah, 4). "I think of Woodbury as one huge playground," says Rhonda, 41, a health plan manager. The Bielenberg Sports Center boasts 36 outdoor sports fields and two indoor ice rinks, while Carver Lake Park has a swimming beach and an archery range. But it's not all fun and games: Rhonda and Craig, 43, a bank auditor, give top marks to teachers for keeping parents in the loop (via newsletters and an online portal) and making sure students are up to speed (four of the kids have a school app that reminds them when assignments are due). And as a biracial couple, the Arnolds appreciate Woodbury's diversity. "Our block alone has families from China, Mexico and Ireland," says Rhonda. "You fit in no matter where you're from."

Good Deeds: Raising money through an annual pancake breakfast and city-wide garage sale, the Woodbury Lions Club donates some $25,000 a year to college scholarships, programs for the sight- and hearing-impaired and more. Hear them roar!

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Boerne, Texas

Population: 29,055
Median Income: $81,221
Median Home Price: $201,562
Households with Kids: 34%
GreatSchools Rating: 9

Kelly Stahl, 42, can tell you that random acts of kindness are the norm here. A few months ago she was about to pay at a drive-thru, only to be told the driver in front of her had it covered. She did the same for the SUV right behind her—and later learned that 30 cars had paid it backward that day. "This type of thing happens all the time," says Kelly, who, along with husband Ben, 37, a physician, and kids Camille, 16, Emma, 12, Charlie, 8 and Olivia, 6, volunteers at two nonprofits, packing food for the needy and serving meals to the homeless. The Stahls also spend plenty of time alfresco, whether they're hiking at Cibolo Nature Center & Farm or fishing, swimming and picnicking at Guadalupe River State Park. Schools in this San Antonio suburb receive the highest ratings by the state, and the teachers win raves from Kelly. "We see them around town and at church, and it's clear they care about their students, not just how well they perform on tests," she says. "It's only one example of how everybody here looks out for one another."

Good Deeds: The volunteer physicians and nurse practitioners at Hill Country Mission for Health, a nonprofit mobile clinic, provide exams, screenings and treatment to uninsured low-income adults and help them stay healthy with their Risk Buster wellness program.

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Lake Mary, Florida

Population: 14,083
Median Income: $79,114
Median Home Price: $245,565
Households with Kids: 31%
GreatSchools Rating: 8

When business manager Chris Lee, 48, was relocated from Chicago to this quiet Orlando suburb in 2003, he had a hunch it was a good move. He and wife Faith, 35, wanted a safe haven for their family, and "I just had a feeling this place would grow into its own," he says. "I was right on the money." The Lees now have four kids—Joshua, 18, Melanie, 16, Alexis, 7, and Brennan, 4—and Lake Mary is practically bursting with restaurants, stores and high-tech jobs. But it still has a small town-feel, with its downtown farmers' market, WineART Wednesdays (an outdoor fair with music and food trucks) and lots of family-friendly events. Lake Mary is part of the Seminole County school district, which has one of the highest graduation rates in Florida, and SAT scores are consistently above state and national averages. "It's a great time to be living here," says Chris. "Faith and I miss our families, but we'd never leave. We're totally spoiled."

Good Deeds: Be A Trailblazer is Lake Mary's all-purpose nonprofit. It organized the historical museum and spruced up the Rinehart Road recreational trail, while this year's 5K run raised $4,000 for needy kids.

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Elmhurst, Illinois

Population: 44,509
Median Income: $88,236
Median Home Price: $330,000
Households with Kids: 39%
GreatSchools Rating: 9

As a former tour guide, Karen Stezowski, 50, has traveled the world. But when it comes to raising kids Clara, 17, Alex, 15, and William, 10, there's no place she'd rather be than this comfy Chicago suburb. "Elmhurst has everything a family could want," she says. The pedestrian-friendly downtown is perfect for strolling, and the Stezowskis like to catch $1 summer movies at the York theater or hang out at the town library, which has a coffee bar as well as a teens-only lounge where kids can crash on sofas and browse books for hours. Karen and husband Rich, 57, a business analyst, rave about the schools' rigorous standards (ACT and SAT scores are well above state averages) and robust arts program. Clara is a soprano with a national honor choir—a 300-person cross-country ensemble—and Alex, a guitarist and pianist, is in a band that plays at homeless shelters. "There are countless opportunities to volunteer and find your passion," Karen says. "This community is a dream destination."

Good Deeds: Since it began in 2013, the local chapter of 100+ Women Who Care, a 142-member giving circle, has donated $40,000 to various charities, including the Elmhurst Walk-In Ministry for families in crisis and the Northern Illinois Food Bank's BackPack program for hungry kids.

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Apex, North Carolina

Population: 40,205
Median Income: $84,843
Median Home Price: $240,000
Households with Kids: 52%
GreatSchools Rating: 9

With all its historic Queen Anne-style and Art Deco buildings, you could say that Apex is the pinnacle of quaintness, which suits Andrea Watson just fine. "This town has real character—with hardly any traffic or stress," she says. And the living is easy. Andrea, 46, a preschool teacher, and husband Roy, 45, a sales director—along with kids Alayna, 17, Royce, 12, and Ryan, 11—enjoy picnics at the community park, which has a 50-acre lake, batting cages and tennis courts. The Watsons also frequent the farmers' market and events such as PeakFest, a spring arts and crafts festival, and Peak City Pig Fest, a summertime BBQ contest that attracts some 20,000 visitors every year. Teachers who spot and nurture innate talent are the norm in this Raleigh suburb: Alayna was tapped for advanced math in elementary school, and Royce was the only sixth-grader selected for the robotics club. "On top of that, our kids are exposed to diverse cultures and mingle with people from all types of backgrounds," says Roy. "Their lives will be much richer for it."

Good Deeds: For more than 40 years, the Apex Firebelles have come to the rescue, holding bake sales that have raised about $50,000 to purchase defibrillators for the fire department. Their next project: new brakes for a vintage 1939 Hunter fire truck.

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Brecksville, Ohio

Population: 13,464
Median Income: $93,755
Median Home Price: $215,000
Households with Kids: 32%
GreatSchools Rating: 10

Beth Champion, 37, likes to joke that this charming Cleveland suburb belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of people who grow up here, go away to college and return to raise a family. She and husband Tom, 37, president of a steel fabrication company, are former high school sweethearts who were lured back by the town's ample green space (including a 3,000-acre nature reserve and Cuyahoga Valley National Park) and top-rated schools, where children Thomas, 12, Andrew, 10, and Ava, 9, are thriving. "I love that there's an equal emphasis on achievement and giving back," says Beth. "All my kids—well, everyone except my 10-month-old, Amelia—give money from their own piggy banks."

Good Deeds: It's a sure sign of spring when Brecksville middle-schoolers hold fundraisers for pediatric cancer research, including car washes, bracelet sales and—whee!—a dunk tank where kids get to soak their teachers.

Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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