Graduation brings a transition that often leads to life in a new location. Stepping into an independent life with new dreams and goals, away from home, can evoke nervousness as well as enthusiasm. For small-town high school seniors, it is common to hear excitement voiced about finally being able to go somewhere “bigger.” Many feel that leaving is part of a permanent long-term plan; yet for others, the exodus was merely a stepping-stone to the return.

Lena (Womack) Vogelgesang spent a good part of her young life growing up in Sisters. After beginning high school here, Lena’s family spent a short time in Colorado Springs. The experience was quite eye-opening, to say the least. Lena became one in a class size of 600 and had to adjust to being in a school of several thousand students. Perspectives broadened quickly and gave Lena an even deeper appreciation for life in a smaller community. The Womack family eventually returned to the hometown they loved and Lena was able to spend her junior and senior years once again at Sisters High School. Being back home felt good, however Lena knew that she would again have to leave when it was time for college.

After graduating, Lena headed back to Colorado Springs to pursue her higher education. Small-town life didn’t quite prepare Lena for the differences in a bigger world, however she feels it gave her an anchor that would later provide clarity on what is most important. It was here that Lena met Chris Vogelgesang; the man who became her best friend and husband. As the newlyweds planned their future, which included starting a family, Sisters seemed like the best place to settle. Lena would once again be able to return home.

Living in any small town has its challenges, and for a young couple just starting out, limited job opportunities and housing can create difficult roadblocks. Add in high cost of living and it can seem almost impossible. Impossible, unless you are determined, connected and committed to raising a family where quality of life abounds.

Lena and Chris found a way six years ago, and it wasn’t long after the decision to move that they learned they were “expecting.” That first year was unimaginable. Moving between six different homes and working multiple jobs became the norm. Lena’s family and relationships within the community definitely helped, but they had to be willing to move repeatedly and be open to different types of jobs that would sustain them.

After Liam was born, Lena and Chris prayed for stability and a place they could call their long-term home. Prayers were answered when they were offered an opportunity to buy the home they were renting; the sixth residence in that first year would become their own.

The Vogelgesang family has grown to four, and everyone is enjoying a lifestyle that is rare today. Lena’s roots and family are here, enabling the boys to share daily life with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Life still requires strategies and multiple jobs, however Lena feels that “the opportunities definitely outweigh the sacrifices.”

As Liam and Noah (Chris and Lena’s second son) grow up, they will experience what Lena did and come to understand their place within a community that cares for and supports them... and they will live a simpler life. Childhood will include unlimited opportunities to connect with nature, breathe fresh air and grow in a heathy way. It will also include a life connected to and caring for those around them, which is a family priority.

Lena is also excited to think of their boys one day going to Sisters High School and benefitting from the exceptional opportunities that exist there. Unlike the overcrowded classrooms with limited options found elsewhere, Lena envisions the many diverse learning experiences accessible here: flying an airplane, building a ukulele — the offerings are big in this small town.

At this time of year, people who live in a small community are acutely aware of the inevitable rite of passage. It is a time of celebrating, affirming, letting go and experiencing hard goodbyes. However it is also important to remember that some who have left do return home, and some stay right here to build their future. For Lena and her family, calling Sisters “home” allows for a rare quality of life and a future where tradition, possibilities and connectedness are beautifully interwoven.