This young family made a major move, from NYC to Florida – with a little detour in Jamaica…
Nerissa Holder Hall and her husband Dirk Hall loved life in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. But when their twins arrived in 2015, they knew it was time to make a change.
“Shortly after having the babies, I started getting this inkling, ‘Do we want a backyard for the kids?’ I grew up on Long Island and had a beautiful childhood — being outside, playing sports,” Nerissa says. “I really wanted that for my kids, too.”
With an eye on the New York suburbs, Nerissa and Dirk started researching Westchester communities. During that search they discovered Suburban Jungle and were quickly matched with Strategist Patti Natiss.
“Patti was so helpful because she was patient. I didn’t share very good clues about what I was looking for because frankly, I didn’t know,” she says. “Patti sent us Suburban Jungle town description sheets with all the research that I needed already done, and she encouraged us to tour different towns. There were days when we’d hit three different towns in one day.”
Searching beyond Westchester
While Nerissa and Dirk dug in, ready to head to Westchester, she admits nothing truly clicked.
“Patti suggested we expand our search and include Connecticut,” Nerissa says. “As soon as Dirk and I started touring in Connecticut, we just looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my goodness. This is so beautiful. It just vibes with us.’”
Ultimately, Nerissa and Dirk decided they wanted to anchor their town decision in where their kids would enroll in school. After touring – and loving – a school in Westport, they knew they’d found their town. That was in February 2020.
Then the pandemic hit and everything changed.
Making a pandemic pivot
Like everyone else, the Hall family hunkered down in their Brooklyn apartment, trying to figure out what next – and not knowing where the kids would go to pre-K in the fall.
“I was talking to a friend who lives in California,” Nerissa says. “She had the inspired idea to rent a farm for part of the time they were stuck at home. I just thought this was such a great way to look at life, and it really challenged me to start thinking differently about quarantining at home.”
That call changed everything, Nerissa says.
“After we hung up, I looked at my husband and said, ‘Our friends are renting a farm! What is our farm?’ And Dirk said, ‘Well it’s not a farm.’ That set off a brainstorm for us. We realized if we relaxed our academic anxiety we could think about what our other goals for our kids were outside of the typical school experience. And ultimately, we thought, ‘ What if this is an opportunity to connect our kids to their Caribbean heritage? And that set off a spark.’”
The journey to Jamaica
Within six weeks, the couple — with help from Dirk’s cousins in Kingston — had rented a house and were on their way to Jamaica.
Being in Jamaica was a huge change from being in downtown Brooklyn, in the best possible way. Their home in the hills of Kingston had a miniature coconut tree in the backyard and a community pool with mountain views. The kids were outside all the time and Nerissa started swimming every day.
“It changed my brain,” she says. “Having an outdoor lifestyle made us rethink our lives. It was such a difference from our urban elevator lifestyle and we really liked what it did for our family dynamic.”
After a few months in Jamaica, Nerissa called Patti and told her she wasn’t sure if they would ever come back to the tri-state area. She mentioned in passing that before they had kids, she and Dirk had casually talked about where they would live if they didn’t live in New York, and that Miami was on that list.
“Patti said, ‘Well, we have an office in Florida. You should talk to Melissa Schneider, our Head Florida Strategist.’ And that was the end,” said Nerissa. “As soon as I talked to Melissa, everything unfolded.”
Discovering Boca Raton
Over the next few weeks, Nerissa spent hours on the phone with Melissa, and the two found out they had lots in common: Melissa was originally from New York too, so she understood the questions that were running through Nerissa’s mind.
“Melissa said, ‘Nerissa, living in South Florida is like pressing the easy button.’” And with that, the deal was sealed. Nerissa was on a flight to Florida from Jamaica to explore Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Parkland and also to tour the local schools. One specific school stood out from the rest.
“I knew the minute I stepped into the school that that’s where the kids were going, but there were very few spots open and I needed two in kindergarten.” Melissa had all of the resources at her fingertips and guided the family every step of the way. In less than two weeks, they had their acceptance letter and a lease signed for an apartment 10 minutes from the school.
Nerissa and her family, ultimately, decided to rent an apartment in close-by West Boca Raton to be close to their children’s new school and continue touring the area. In November 2022 they put in an offer on a house in Boca Raton and, on New Year’s Eve, moved in.
“My whole block is people from New York,” Nerissa says. “We felt at home immediately. It’s like living in the sixth borough.”