On July 25, a group of four young girls from Northwest Passage Prairieview hiked down to Schaefer Cabin for a day of recreation and relaxation. Schaefer Cabin, is tucked away in the woods sitting above the Namekagon River. The rustic log cabin, large grass yard, cozy fire pit area, and alluring forests surrounding this region makes it an ideal place to find privacy and peace. (Schaefer Cabin is in the process of being renovated to become a retreat center for residents at Northwest Passage.) On this day, the girls were there to play by the river, but they also had their first photojournalism assignment. Meet, interview, and photograph Branda Thwaits.
Park Ranger Branda arrived shortly after the girls finished their picnic lunch. Branda stepped out of her truck with her inviting smile, hopeful eyes, and bright voice. She works as a ranger for the National Park Service and is considered to be an ambassador to the local river ways. She is a brilliant planner with a knack for connecting groups of people with positive experiences on the Wisconsin rivers. Branda brought along her mucking tools, and together we gathered on the shoreline of the Namekagon River to explore together. We began to investigate and learn about the small creatures that are usually overlooked by the paddlers and fisherman.
One young girl timidly conversed with Branda about the thought of leeches being in the water. Nevertheless, these nature girls forged ahead leaving the worries of leeches behind after realizing the cool sandy water was more or less a place of sanctuary. I looked out to see these young girls playing in the water. They were enthusiastic about the bugs and small creatures they were finding. I watched from a distance as one photojournalist (aka resident) hunted to capture a frog with Branda. I also caught sight of Branda exclaiming the discovery of a dragonfly nymph – the first one to be found by the girls. The girls happily mucked in the river as the water slowly grazed past their legs. After a short period of time Park Ranger Branda helped the girls identify dragonfly nymphs, caddis fly homes, minnows, crayfish and a frog.
Soon it was time to get to know this incredible woman on a more personal level. The interview first began with a remarkable introduction by one of the girls. She asked Branda “What is your happy place?” Branda immediately lit up with the thoughtful question and fired back with the curiosity of wanting to know who came up with such an insightful question. Little did we know the thoughtful, honest, empathetic, and earnest conversation that was about to unfold for all the girls… The conversation that evolved from these interview questions led into moments of vulnerability for each girl, and for Branda. “What is the most challenging obstacle you have overcome?” Branda answered by discussing the difficulties of parenting. The girls responded with answers reflecting on their treatment. One girl decided that admitting she needed help was the most difficult thing she has had to do. Another girl recounts her difficulties with being away from home. The interview continued with a mixture of light-hearted questions. “Do you have any pets” and “what do you think your best traits are- why?” Branda responded to the second question by describing her ability to find the good in people, a trait she picked up from her father. The girls explained their skills in dance, having a positive attitude, the ability to speak languages, and one young girl deciding one of her best traits is being brave. Overall, the atmosphere sitting together on the bank of Namekogen River was genuine, open, and moving. Branda allowed each girl to find connection to her by listening to the individual thoughts and passions of the girls. Before long, time was running low, and the girls needed to get back for dinner.
Before we left the girls snapped some portrait photos of the compassionate individual they spent time getting to know. Each girl approached the shot with different images in mind, and Branda eagerly played along. Overall, it was a moving and memorable experience. It seemed to have sparked a sense of connection for several of the girls. The connection to the natural world, and in a short amount of time they were given a connection to a remarkable role model. Each of the young ladies was reminded of her own great traits and how everyone has had to overcome obstacles in life, making their journeys feel a little less daunting.
“Women of the Valley” is a photojournalism project at Northwest Passage that connects the young women in our program to the women who are shaping the culture of our region. Through telling the stories of these women, the young artists ultimately learn to understand, share, and shape their own stories.
On July 11, 2015, a group of seven girls from Northwest Passage Prairieview set out to meet and interview Danette Olson – their first assignment as a photojournalist team. This summer the girls at Northwest Passage will meet many women throughout the St. Croix River Valley to learn from them and try to capture their stories. This is part of a summer program connecting the youth with women who have overcome obstacles and who also advocate for the environment. Danette is a leader and inspiration in the St Croix River watershed area through her work in humanities, the arts, and conservation.
The meeting place was Glen Park in River Falls, Wisconsin. The girls gathered around Danette as we stood by the Kinnickinnic River. The authentic woman standing before us shared her passion for theatre and asked the girls to embrace their imaginations and tell a story with another by giving one word at a time. Together they created some imaginative short stories.
The interview included thoughtful questions designed by the girls. One observant girl from Northwest Passage noticed Danette’s necklace. She begins the interview by asking about the meaning of the symbol on the necklace. Danette explained that she got the piece of jewelry, which depicts a metallic person hanging from the leather cord, almost 21 years ago. The symbol means “hang in there, everything will be all right.” It continues to be a small source of strength for Danette. With that question, inspired purely by curiosity and observation, the rest of their interview continued to be full of energy.
“Have your life experiences led you to believe in nature or nurture?” Danette explained her answer to this question by stating her reasons for believing in both factors, to an extent. Other intriguing questions included, “Is your personality more like the rush of a river or the calmness of a stream – why?” and “What is your biggest fear and why?” Danette embraced every question with enthusiasm and tenderness. She smiled at the girls with deep compassion shown in her eyes all the while maintaining a playful spirit.
Meanwhile, back at their residential treatment center, the girls are beginning to narrate their own personal stories through art and writing. During the remainder of the summer these girls will continue to express themselves while meeting inspirational women in the St. Croix River Valley. As one resident of the treatment center explains, “I think my personality is more like the rush of a river. When I’m not doing something, I get bored, and when I get bored, I get myself into trouble… Usually if my body is calm, my mind is still rushing.”
“Women of the Valley” is a project exclusive to the Northwest Passage Prairieview program. It teaches the young ladies photography and photojournalism to empower them in understanding their own “heroine’s journey” through connecting them with the women who have helped shape the history of the St. Croix Valley.
The girls at our Prairieview program recently learned how to capture the suns UV rays, convert them into infrared rays, and use them to make food. Each girl was given a pizza box that had been donated by staff. With these boxes, the girls worked in teams to construct solar ovens using only basic materials. This activity had many benefits to the girls. They not only got to work on their team-building and communication skills, but they got to learn a new and fun way to cook, along with some fun facts:
- The amount of solar energy that strikes the Earth in one hour is more than enough to provide all of the Earth’s energy needs for a complete year!
- Solar ovens have a long standing history and are used all over the world, including places where firewood is scarce. They are a great way to make food without the use of electricity.
After completing their project, they were even able to test their ovens, “roasting” marshmallows for s’mores.
Brittany Bosak, Prairieview Teacher
At Northwest Passage we strive to give the young men and women a well-rounded education. This includes many different and interesting things; like how to design and make solar ovens! Thank you to the staff who help make this possible.
Northwest Passage Riverside held their fourth annual Track and Field Day on Thursday, July 16. The boys at Riverside used different skills as they competed in some lighthearted events both individually and as a team, while also getting to enjoy some treats during the day.
There were five teams; the blue, green, yellow, purple and pink team. Each team consisted of four or five kids and one staff member. During the events, the boys had to work together completely, using all their social and team-building skills. They had to review each challenge and figure out the best way to complete it. They used the problem solving skills they have been working diligently to improve and together came up with the best solution. They were there to help each other and always cheer on their teammates. The team activities included: two relay races, Oreo contest, golf ball toss, the obstacle course, and wet sponge dodge ball.
They also had the opportunity to strive as individuals through a pie-eating contest, punt-pass-kick competition, soccer kick, 40 yard dash, and basketball shooting. These types of activities helped to keep the boys active while also reminding them of good sportsmanship. Each individual showed strengths and had something to be proud of at the end of the day. They all enjoyed themselves immensely and were given praise for their accomplishments.
The boys got the chance to experience the treats of “fair food” for lunch with special treats such as fruit/cool-whip funnel cakes, foot long hot dogs, mini-donuts, deep-fried Oreos and others. Healthy eating is a big deal here at Northwest Passage, so this was a very special thing just for the day and the boys LOVED it!
Erin Hermann, Riverside Teacher
Track and Field day is not the only event that Riverside holds in order to help its residents actively practice team building skills. They also work on life-sized cardboard boats for several weeks that they eventually race across Clam Lake and they compete in derby car races! Sign-up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any of the fun!
The girls aren’t going to let a little rain slow them down. Check out their fourth week of underwater photography. They’re really getting the hang of it!
The boys of Northwest Passage Riverside ran in the City of Trails Trail Run 5K during St. Croix Falls’ Wannigan Days celebration! The team has been training hard in the mornings under the leadership of our dedicated staff: Josh, Ryan, Reid and Austin.
Our residents: Garrett, Westin, Logan, and Carlos had great attitudes and put forth outstanding effort despite getting rained during the race. The boys started in the back of the pack and still managed to grab race places! Garrett placed 2nd in his age group and 5th in the overall race, Josh placed 2nd in his age group and 6th in the overall race, and as a team the boys received a golden shoe to celebrate that they were the fastest team!
Ashley and I were able to work with our residents Andre and Holden to capture some of the memories. We’ll get the photos uploaded soon.
Sarah Bach, M.S. Weekend Supervisor