Christina McCarthy-Burger moved back to Wisconsin after exploring the world and living in one of the country’s fastest growing cities, Denver. Would her small town life in the Midwest offer as much to her and her family as a big city?
Two years after the move, she has not only answered that question with an emphatic yes, but she wants to share all of the incredible opportunities she found in the area for families and their children with a new website, Tri-County Kids. “It’s a small idea that has snowballed,” she said.
The labor of love has grown into an incredibly rich resource for parents and kids in Calumet, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties about all of the incredible events, attractions, classes and restaurants in the area.
She grew up not far from Sheboygan County. Her parents have a business in New Holstein. But she moved away to go to university in Minnesota and explored the world, spending a year in studying in Australia.
After university, she moved around the country, eventually settling in Denver, where her husband is from. The Denver area offered the young couple a lot as one of the fastest growing cities in the country. At one point, she said that 3000 people were moving to the city each month.
The city was beautiful and had everything a bustling metro has to offer, but it also demanded a lot of them. Although their jobs were not far away, ever increasing traffic led to long commutes, sometimes up to an hour, and Christina worked in events management, which required frequent travel. Both impacted their quality of life and the time they had to spend with each other and their family.
So two years ago, she and her husband decided to come back to Wisconsin in part because their first son, Everett, who is now three, had some health issues but also to enjoy the small town life she had growing up.
“It just completely changed our perspective on what we wanted out of our lifestyle and our family and where we wanted to raise him,” she said.
Her husband embraced the change, but Christina admits that she had doubts about whether the move would be the right thing for her children. When her two sons are older, she wondered whether they would want to do theatre or art, study science or engineering and whether activities would be available in smaller, rural communities.
Rather than let these concerns linger, in March the young mother decided to strike out and find out all that the area had to offer, and she discovered a wealth of activities, events and attractions.
“I found so much available that I had no idea (about),” she said. But there was one thing she didn’t find. “Even though we’re in the age of Facebook, even though we’re in the age of Twitter,” she said, she couldn’t find a one-stop, single source of information for families about things to do. “There was no one place that we could go to as parents as a community hub,” she said.
And she added, “as a busy parent, you don’t always have the time to be looking at 25 different websites or your Facebook feed.”
Christina had joined a moms club in Plymouth and found a lot of other women just like her who have moved to the area in the last two years from Florida, Arkansas and other places. They were asking many of the same questions she was. “What do I do with my kids? How do I connect with other parents in the area? How do I meet other people?”
It’s one of the reasons that her personal mission to find things to do for her young and growing family grew into Tri-County Kids, a website for kids and families in Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Calumet counties.
Directories and events listings
The website is broken down into a directory and community calendar, with the directory covering three areas: Play, Learn and Eat.
She not only did research online but has checked out many of the parks, museums, libraries and other attractions and events with her family. For the parks section, she said, “I went around and had adventures with my kids and looked at all the parks in the area.”
She uncovered parks that neither she nor her family knew about such as the Woodland Sculpture Garden in Sheboygan. “It’s a fun adventure to go hiking there with your kids. There are little gnomes and sculptures and waterfalls, and it’s free.”
She discovered Morrissey Park in Chilton that has a castle-like playground, which was built by the community. Those are just two of her top ten parks in the area.
For the learn section of the site, she connected with the Sheboygan County Family Resource Center and discovered a wealth of programs. In talking with other parents, she found out many were unaware that the center offered infant massage classes, parenting classes and playgroups.
For the eat section, she has reached out to area restaurants to find out which ones have food and other offerings especially for families and kids.
The site is more than a directory because she is trying to share the excitement she has found in living in the area. “I want to bring it to life and get people to engage and interact with their community because I feel very lucky to live here and have my children grow up in this area,” she said.
To help her communicate her passion about the area, she also has a blog where she writes about things going on in the area, such as highlighting events each week and each weekend. She gives her personal take and also lends some of her personality.
Beyond the directory and blog, she also has an events calendar. She spent a lot of time not only researching the events, but also the best way to easily allow parents to find the events they wanted. Eventually, she found a service from a Canadian company named Timely. The service helps parents focus on the type of event, the location and the time so that they can quickly and easily find what they want to do.
In the end, she has found more than she ever imagined for her two young boys.
And she found out that her children would have all of the opportunities available to those kids who live in a big city, like Denver where she used to live. “I had no idea we had all these art classes for kids and culinary classes for kids at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the Plymouth Arts Center,” she said.
Moreover, she believes that in the smaller communities in the area, kids get more individual attention, and both children and parents can connect more easily.
The site just launched in mid-September, but organizations in the area already are submitting their events to her for inclusion in the events calendar.
At the moment, she is doing this to share what she has found and to connect to other families. The site is completely self-funded, and she views it as as a one year experiment to see if other people are as interested in it as she is.
In terms of paying for the costs, she is wary of paid listings, and she doesn’t want to charge users for the site. She is simply working to expand the site and raise awareness of it as well as all the area has to offer.
To help make the site sustainable, both in terms of the time that is she spending maintaining it and also the costs of hosting it, she is considering exploring partnerships or sponsorships with local companies or businesses.
And in creating the site, she is convinced that she really has moved to Someplace Better. She said: “My kids aren’t going to miss out on anything because I’m going to have more time to take them to these things. I’m not going to be fighting traffic to get them there. The smaller class sizes and small town feel of being welcomed in these classes is huge for them as well as for me. It’s opened this door for me, and I just want to share this with other moms.”