Earlier this year, NDVS/SB made the difficult decision to cancel its Medora Career Experience Program. In 2018 and 2019, twelve high school students traveled to Medora and worked a variety of jobs for a week. They served as ushers at the Medora Musical and the Pitchfork Fondue; worked as attendants at a mini golf course, shooting gallery, swimming pool, and the Town Square; and worked in a laundry facility. While in the tourist town, the students were also able to have fun and socialize by swimming, shopping, mini-golfing, and, of course, attending the Musical and Pitchfork Fondue. After the Medora Career Experience Program was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic, one of the students who participated in the Program decided to pursue a summer job in Medora.
Sara Czapiewski, 21, graduated from Minto High School in the spring of 2019 and started college at the University of Jamestown that fall. Like many young adults, Sara wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue, and that looming question, plus the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, caused her to drop out of college in April 2020. A year later, after feeling cooped up on her family farm while waiting out the pandemic, she decided she didn’t want to wait until fall to start something new. “I realized that life isn’t going to look like you want it to right away. You have to work for it, and even after working for it, there will be waiting. I was ready to take those baby steps to get my life started.” The first step Sara decided to take: pursuing a summer job in Medora.
Not knowing what job she wanted or what was even available, Sara simply sent an email to the main Medora address to ask about summer employment. Medora’s Talent Acquisition Specialist Sara Michael called her back to learn a bit more about her and find out what jobs she’d be interested in. “She answered my questions, and then we just had an informal conversation on the phone. I told her I wasn’t comfortable with customer service-type jobs, but I’d love to do more labor-intensive work.” Medora, which employs an average of over 300 seasonal employees from 46 states and over 20 countries every summer, was eager to hire Sara. She was familiar with the area, and had actual work experience, thanks to her experience with NDVS/SB’s Medora Career Experience Program.
Sara’s job this summer has, indeed, been “labor-intensive,” just like she wanted. She works in housekeeping at Elkhorn Quarters, which is the second largest hotel in the state. She arrives at work at 8:15 and is usually assigned to bedrooms, which entails stripping and remaking beds, dusting, and stocking supplies with her team. “We go to lunch early so we can get back to work and finish by 4:00, which is when rooms are guaranteed for guests. But sometimes we work much later than that.” The rest of the day is hers, and she’s enjoyed getting to know other seasonal employees as well as tooling around on her rented bike. Seasonal employees can rent bikes for the summer at a discounted rate, but Sara, who doesn’t feel comfortable riding a two-wheeled bike because of her vision, requested a 3-wheeled bike. “Initially they said no and that they were hard to come by. But someone did some digging, and at supper that night, I was told they had found me one! Not only that but it had belonged to none other than Sheila Schafer!” Sheila, the wife of Harold Schafer who put Medora on the map as a tourist town, had even autographed the bike before donating it.
Sara, who is low vision, has been able to perform all tasks assigned to her without issue. “The sheets for the bed are pinstriped, which helps you put them on the right way. They are white on white so it is hard to see unless I look really closely in the window, and we haven’t really found a better solution than that. The cleaning chemicals we use are different colors, so that makes it easy to tell them apart. I do have someone help me in the lunch line.” And she hasn’t let her vision keep her away from one of the best parts of her summer, which is all the opportunities she’s had. “The other day Prairie Public TV was here, and I got to go around town dressed as a mascot for PBS Kids all day.”
It is experiences like those that have helped Sara determine the next baby step she will take: This fall, she will return to college. “I will be going to Minnesota State University Moorhead for animation. I was very unsure if college was really the best option for me; I still am to a point. But I’ve been more and more sure of what I want to do as a career, and that is television animation.” Sara, who is interested in storyboarding and other preproduction tasks that are a part of the animation process, knows that going to college will help her determine exactly what type of work she wants to do. “Mostly, you get your foot in the door through internships, and college is how you get those. I think I’ve known what I wanted for a while and just not had the knowledge or confidence in myself to admit it.” Now, after a summer away from home, living and working on her own, doing work that suits her, and advocating for herself, Sara is ready for what’s next and has no regrets on dropping out of college or changing her life course. “This time, I’m going to college because I want to. It’s my decision and not anyone else’s. I do not think I would be where I am if I hadn’t gone to Jamestown for my first year. I just have to take life one step at a time, and my next step is Moorhead.”
Sara’s mom, Sheila Czapiewski, agrees that this summer has been a life-changing experience for her daughter. “She seems to be more confident and shows more maturity. She actually applied for the job, interviewed, and got the job before she even told us she was going out there. That showed me that she was ready for something new.” Sheila also says that NDVS/SB’s Medora Career Experience Program and the short-term programs in Grand Forks that are held throughout the year helped prepare Sara for this summer and her next steps. “She knew the area and was less afraid to go out there because of her working out there with the School. And during short-term programs as a teen, she was able to practice planning meals, shopping, and cooking when they stayed in the apartments at the School. She’d also practiced applying for jobs and interviewing at the School.”
The summer has also been a life-changing experience for Sheila. “It’s difficult to watch your children go out on their own. You’re scared for them, but you need to let them grow and spread their wings. Emotionally, this summer has been very good for both of us. It was good for her to know she could go out and do these things, and it was good for me to see that she could do them on her own. I’m very proud of Sara.”