Kristi Casazza gets up from the table to rock her 6-month-old son. It’s 2:00 on a Monday afternoon and it’s time for his nap.
“Just give him a moment, he’ll fall asleep,” she says softly as her friend Sandi Sanford offers her help and I ask her what it’s been like to be a new family in Boomtown. We’re in Sandi’s home and outside her window the street is quiet and the sun is warming up a blanket of snow in her front yard. As Kristi talks, Sandi pours her a cup of coffee and warms up some water for MaryAnn Minatra, an Alaska native who is embarking on her second winter as a resident of Watford City. “Everybody’s heard about this,” said MaryAnn. “As soon as I say, ‘North Dakota,’ everybody knows what I’m talking about.”
Kristi, the mother of four young boys, knew what it meant when her husband, Luke, the owner of a concrete construction company, suggested moving the family from their hometown of Kalispell, Montana east to North Dakota. It meant work. And it meant prayers for strength to help make the right decision for their family “I prayed for joy,” said Kristi. “Three days later I woke up and I felt ready. I said, ‘let’s do it. Let’s go to North Dakota.”
Kristi’s prayers for clarity were answered when her husband crossed the Montana/North Dakota border and he received three different phone calls regarding job leads.Two years later the Casazza’s are settled into a new home and finding their way in a community bursting at the seams. And while Kristi admits it wasn’t an easy transition at first, she says the warmth and caring of other women helped her find her place.
MaryAnn nods her head as she remembers her own struggle to feel connected in a new community. With four grown daughters and a home in Alaska, MaryAnn moved with her husband to North Dakota hoping they would soon return to their home state, but the wave of employment opportunity has kept the couple in Watford City, first in an RV, and now in a mobile home in a man camp that MaryAnn’s husband co-manages. “I spent eight to ten months just waiting and biding my time until we left,” said MaryAnn. “It was a bad attitude and it was wasteful.” But MaryAnn, an author with 15 years of experience in ministry, had much to offer her new community and she looked to her church for inspiration. “I would go to church on Sunday and wonder how long am I going to sit here,” she recalls. “I knew there were all of these men here and that they had wives and girlfriends with them. There were women coming here to work too and I wondered, what is going on for them?” It was from that question that MaryAnn approached other women in her church to form Women Connect, a group dedicated to helping women find fellowship, encouragement and support within the community.
The non-denominational organization was founded in September and although it’s new, it has blossomed, with anywhere from 12 to 25 women meeting on Wednesday evenings in the Assembly of God church. “We have women of all ages and all walks of life,” said Sandi, who grew up in the area and moved back with her husband and Watford City native, Brent, eight years ago to raise her family and help their community deal with changes. “This group really gets down to the nuts and bolts of the heart.”
The women of Women Connect understand that the isolation of raising children or starting a new job miles away from family can be harrowing, so the group reaches out by providing childcare during their meetings and a safe and open spot where friendships can be formed and confidence can be restored. “Women can make a home, find the Laundromat, go to the grocery store and care for their family, but it’s not enough,” said Sandi. “Women need friends.”
Beyond the meetings that focus on devotion and spiritual health, Women Connect is invested in nurturing the community as well.
This Christmas the group got together to bake, decorate and deliver over 100 plates of cookies to residents in need of a little holiday cheer. “The idea was to deliver cookie plates to women with families,” said Sandi, who made phone calls to area man-camps, local companies and other housing facilities to get the proper contacts. She was surprised when her conversations revealed that their Christmas gift might better serve working men struggling through the holiday spent away from their families. “One manager of a crew-camp told me, you know, I have some men that are really struggling here. One just lost his wife, another his daughter. They would really appreciate something like this,” said Sandi. “When I delivered those cookies, they were overwhelmed. One man had tears in his eyes as he thanked me.”It’s the simple acts of taking care of one another that is the heart of Women Connect, and MaryAnn hopes that with a little creativity they can spread their wings further. “My hope is that a ministry comes from this,” said MaryAnn, who is throwing around the idea of hosting a book club in the local Laundromat, an activity that will help women bond with one another in the hustle and bustle of their every day lives. “When you look at all that needs to be done you can get overwhelmed, but there are so many opportunities to do our little bit.” But Women Connect is not the only women’s group doing their part in Watford City.
The local branch of Mothers of Preschoolers, or MOPS, focuses on encouraging mothers and building female relationships while taking care of their community. Recently the organization has been collecting donations of winter clothing to be distributed to children and families who arrived in the area unprepared for the harsh winters. “We do it quietly,” said Sandi, who is also involved in MOPS. “It’s seems to be a natural fit.”Kristi’s baby has finally fallen asleep and the conversation between three friends winds down with a few laughs and hugs. “You know, when I first arrived here I admit, I was homesick,” said Kristi as she places her baby in his car seat. “But I thought, I have to put myself out there.”
Tears form in the corners of her eyes as she explains how she took her baby down to the main street restaurant for lunch alone where her waitress visited with her and the hostess invited her over for coffee and cookies.“I went to church that Wednesday, I saw that waitress and she remembered my kids’ names,” said Kristi. “I decided right then that I was going to go upstairs and invite every woman to my house for soup. If I was going to live in this community I wasn’t going to wait for it to serve me, I was going to serve it.”And so she’s followed through with her mission to pay it forward, inviting families living in campers and men working away from home to stay with her family on the weekends or join them for holidays.
Because she feels she has been blessed. Because she feels at home in Boomtown.
Jessie Veeder is a singer, writer, and photographer who lives and works on her family’s cattle ranch in Western North Dakota with her husband, Chad.