Family's move holds big surprise

Like many Ashlanders, Sharon Lawrence, her husband Paul Gerardi and her 14-year-old daughter Robyn Lawrence moved to Ashland after just a few days of visiting the town. When they left Florida for a cross-country journey in their RV three years ago, they had never been to Ashland, but soon discovered Willow Wind Community Learning Center was great for Robyn's home schooling; they loved the flourishing new thought churches, the Peace Choir, the Ashland Food Co-op and mountain setting were added bonuses.

The end of their nomadic existence brought one more bonus none of them expected &

Robyn's long lost half-sister, Laura Jennings, lived in Ashland just four blocks away.

Robyn's mother and father divorced when she was just two years old, and Robyn never met her older half-sister, who at age 10 had already moved to Ashland. Although Robyn knew Laura existed, she thought she lived somewhere in Texas or Idaho.

Headed for

The trek to Ashland brought the Lawrences through both Texas and Idaho, as well as 36 other states, including Alaska and several Canadian provinces. To pay the bills, Paul performed as a guest musician at churches, Sharon sold hand-crafted jewelry and Robyn supplemented her home school curriculum with geography lessons on Alaskan glaciers, practiced conversions throughout Canada and whiled away plenty of hours on the road reading. Along the way, they found many new friends, unforgettable experiences, even a stray cat, but no trace of Laura.

In October 2006, Paul performed in Ashland and finally the end of the journey was in sight.

"We got to Ashland and all of us knew this was it," Sharon said. They stayed just 24 hours, then headed back to Florida to finalize their moving plans, got full custody of Robyn and started looking for Laura.

Laura's story

Laura also knew she had a sister, but her mother never encouraged her to contact her father. She moved to Ashland with her mother and younger brother at age 10, and life kept her busy. She left town for a California boarding school at age 16. Laura returned to Ashland four years ago and had a child soon thereafter.

Last summer, at age 22 and with a three-year-old daughter and fianc&

233;e in place, she decided it was time to track down her father. Just before Robyn rolled into town in August 2007, Laura Googled her father and eventually worked up the nerve to call him.

A few weeks later, Robyn called him to update him on her travels, and he told her "You're going to laugh out loud. Your sister Laura just called me, and she lives in Ashland."

Sharon was anxious how Laura might react, since her younger half-sister Robyn had a relationship with her dad after he had abandoned Laura, but she needn't have worried.

"It's very fun having a sister," Laura said, adding that gaining a sister "was the best upside ever," to a missing father. She and Robyn have frequent sleepovers and were nearly inseparable over the winter break.

"You guys should be my real family," Laura told Sharon and Robyn as the reunited sisters recounted their meeting. "I never felt like I fit in with my real family."

What's next?

Laura has been on a journey quite like Robyn's, but she recently applied for her passport and is planning a Europe vacation after an August wedding. Robyn, however, has had enough traveling for now, simply shaking her head when asked if she planned to give her children a cross-country RV travel experience similar to her own. Although she is grateful that the trip forced her out of her shyness and brought her a sister, now she is ready to trade in the curtains on her tiny RV loft for a real bedroom door and a more suitable place to hold a sleepover with her sister.

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