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Our kids win a stewardship award

A group of young men from Northwest Passage earned a Wisconsin Lake Stewardship Award for environmental commitment in their efforts to photograph the mysterious underwater world of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The awards are given annually in memory of Lowell Klessing, a Wisconsin scientist who embodied the spirit of Aldo Leopold, believing that key to conservation was a deep emotional connection with nature. Our young men forged a bond with nature that will never be broken among their cohort and will be shared for years to come. Thank you gentlemen, and congratulations!

“It makes me feel like I am in a different world and that I am just untouchable for the time being. I feel relaxed and spiritually with the world and my surroundings. I also feel that there is another power stronger than me and that’s Mother Nature.” Anthony, underwater explorer

The project, New Light Under the Surface, was a part of Northwest Passage’s In a New Light programming together with Northland College and the National Park Service’s Youth Partnership Program. The boys are receiving their award at the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention in Stevens Point today. We are working to secure funding to make this project happen again this summer. You can help us today! Funding opportunities are available online at both our website and our Kickstarter campaign.

Learn more about it the kids and their adventure at or Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine‘s article.

Want to help make sure the project happens again? Consider funding our 2015 project at Kickstarter today!

For more information about the work we do with kids, check us out at

Thank you, Tropical Wings!

Well, the explorers have returned from their incredible journey – all the way from northwest Wisconsin to Costa Rica and back. In the following weeks, we’ll have lots to share…but while we’re sorting through 20,000 photographs, Renny and Ethan wanted to let the Tropical Wings Foundation know just how much this trip has meant to them.

Dear Tropical Wings,

My name is Renny and I’d like to take my time to thank you. I can’t thank you enough for funding this trip and giving me the opportunity to experience everything I did in Costa Rica. Exploring the jungle with a camera and taking magnificent boat rides… it was a dream.  Not only did I have the time of my life but in a way I found myself along the way,. Being able to have these life experiences changed my outlook on life. With this new knowledge I’ll be able to come home and continue on my path to a better life. Deep down I keep getting these feelings of true happiness and success, and it’s thanks to you guys. You have no idea how happy I am. Thank you all so much.

Renny Fons


Dear Tropical Wings,

I am extremely appreciative for the opportunity to come on this trip to Costa Rica. Down in Costa Rica we have seen abundant amount of migratory birds along with many species of animals that coexist with them. We have amazing pictures of both migratory and resident species such as toucans, crocodiles, and poisonous snakes. I can’t begin to express my extreme gratitude for getting the opportunity to go on this trip.  It is something I would never have had been able to go on without the help of you and your extreme generosity.
Thank you,
Ethan Reinhardt

Greetings from Costa Rica!

Funded through a generous grant from an organization called Tropical Wings, we’re taking two recent NWP graduates to Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.
This project is part of a “sister park” initiative involving our awesome partners at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, other national parks throughout the midwest and national parks in Costa Rica. The initiative centers on promoting conservation and awareness of our shared neotropical migratory birds: our winged friends that grace us with their presence half the year, and then spend the other half hanging out amongst the monkeys and palm trees in Central America.
Our mission is twofold: First, to capture beautiful photographs of “our” birds in their Costa Rican habitat, and second, to connect with Costa Rican youth through nature photography. So, while this trip is about telling the story of a shared conservation mission across international borders, it’s also about telling the story of shared humanity.
During the trip, we’ll be posting updates – so be sure to check back often!

Today we entered the rainforest. 

By way of a bumpy ride on a 15-passenger prop plane from San Jose, we landed this afternoon on an impossibly small dirt runway flanked by astonishingly unfamiliar forest.  Even more astonishing was the 97 degree heat index that greeted us–giving new meaning to the idea of a warm welcome, especially having departed from minus 40 wind chills just two days ago.  A very vintage Land Cruiser delivered us to our first night’s destination, a quaint open air bunglaow in the town of Drake, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on the edge of Corcovado National Park.

Our young photographers, Ethan and Renny, wasted no time.  Within the first hour, simply sitting on the porch of the bungalow, they spotted three of our target migratory species:  A baltimore oriole, ruby-throated hummingbird, and indigo bunting.  The oriole kindly posed for some great photos.  Seeing “our” birds here for the first time, and having just completed the arduous journey ourselves, we were reminded of the power of the story we’re here to document. 

It’s already evident that one of this adventure’s biggest challenges will be to stay focused on the migratory species we’re here to photograph.  We are surrounded by so many charsimatic resident creatures!  In just the several hours of daylight we experienced so far in Drake, we saw macaws, toucans, monkeys, vultures, 3-foot lizards, and over a dozen little birds that we can’t even begin to identify.  Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is already living up to the hype as one the most biodiverse locations on planet earth. 

After a brief swim in the ocean, and a supper of local Tico cuisine, we now sit back at the bungalow gearing up for the real adventure that begins tomorrow.  We’ll meet our guide and take a boat an hour down the coast to the wild and remote Sirena Station at Corcovado National Park, one of Costa Rica’s–and this planet’s–natural gems.  There, we’ll spend four days photographing the birds we followed south to this piece of paradise, united with them in our shared knowledge of north, now so profoundly distant. 

We are so grateful to Tropical Wings for making this adventure possible, and for the logistical support of the National Park Service, SINAC (Costa Rican Park Service), and Rotary International.  Stay tuned for more updates in the coming days!  

-Ben Thwaits


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Filmmaking Project at Northwest Passage I

This past few months marked the beginning of a very fun new project at Northwest Passage I – filmmaking!

Eight boys worked as teams and individually to execute 8 amazing short films. There was no limit to their creativity; some boys chose to create fictional narratives while others chose to film more documentary style projects.

Spearheaded by staff member Ben Treichel and intern Abi Leveille, the results of their hard work are astonishing. In December, the InaNewLight Gallery held a film premier, where over 25 people came out to view the films.

Steve Ammend, NWP Co-Founder, talks with one of the young filmmakers after the showing.Ben Treichel speaks to the audience about the filmmaking project.Over 25 people, mostly staff members,  came to show their support for the boys' project

We’ll be releasing one new short film each week! The first film, “BINGO” by Alex is so fun – with impeccable comedic timing!

Northwest Passage Receives Grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation



Mark Elliott (right) shaking hands with Mark Murphy, President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers

WEBSTER, Wisconsin: Northwest Passage has been awarded a grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation to create a “therapeutic playscape” at their Webster residential treatment center.

Mark Elliott, Northwest Passage’s executive director comments, “the power of play is often an overlooked piece in children’s mental health, and here is a profound link between physical and emotional health. This playscape affords our kids the opportunity to discover their own creativity and imagination, while also promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.” Featuring a (more…)

It’s Magical, but it’s not Magic: Equine Assisted Interventions

Angela Frederickson, LCSW

by Angela Fredrickson, LCSW  |  Clinical Director

I have been inexplicably fascinated by horses for as long as I can remember. By the age of 13, I had pestered my parents (who did not have much of their own experience with horses) enough that they purchased me my very own horse. This has lead to a life in which I have always been in the presence of horses. My horses have helped to lift me out of despair and have been the source of great joy for me. They have been with me at every turn and they have inspired my career path.

I first witnessed horses helping humans in a planned and deliberate manner when I was 16 years old. I had the opportunity to observe a therapeutic riding session in which a tiny, vulnerable looking little girl was lifted from her wheelchair and onto the back of a horse. (more…)

Northwest Passage and Healthy Burnett kick off Mental Health Rally Week

Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. During the first full week of October, NAMI and participants across the country are bringing awareness to mental illness. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. Each year, the movement grows stronger.

We believe that these issues are important to address year round, but highlighting these issues during Mental Illness Awareness Week provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of the tens of millions of Americans affected by mental illness. (


For the past two years, Northwest Passage has hosted an internal destigmatization campaign, dubbed “I am STRONGER than you think”. Our goal was to empower the youth that we work with to see themselves through a lens of strength and hope – too many times, these young people have been defined by their diagnosis – not by who they are as a person. They are strong and courageous, resilient and hopeful. They are changing our world for the better.  (more…)

September 10th 2014 | National Prevent Suicide Day

by: Iris Ostensen

Take a moment to look inside yourself and inquire-would I know what to do if a friend or family member began talking about suicide. One of the biggest issues we face in the mental health field is the stigma associated with mental illness/wellness. So many people forget it is no different than medical illness/wellness however lacks many of the same services and does not hold the same influence of recovery as other illnesses. Be a stigma breaker!! Talk about mental health talk about suicidal thoughts and feelings. For the remainder of this month I will provide some insight/ideas on things we can do. For starters let’s just start talking to one another. 

Here are some conversation starters, courtesy of

  • Reassure them. Let them know that they are not alone; that you care and will continue to support them.
  • Encourage them to open up. Reassure them that it is ok to talk openly about how they’re feeling.
  • Listen carefully. Resist the urge to give advice or talk about your own experiences.
  • Read up. Learn about their particular disorder to better understand what they may be experiencing.
  • Stay in touch. Continuously reach out through regular phone calls, texts, Face book messages and visits to help them feel less isolated.
  • Be persistent. Invite them to dinner, movies, sporting events and other activities. Even if they refuse at first, continue to issue invitations periodically.
  • Engage them in healthy activities. Invite them to stay involved in healthy and fun activities such as hobbies or sports. Offer to go on a walk together. Event talk to them about the importance of eating right, drinking lots of water and getting sleep.
  • Talk about the future. People who are experiencing a mental illness may have feelings of hopelessness and have trouble seeing beyond their current state.
  • Be patient. Don’t push for too much too soon. Understand that they have a legitimate medical condition and that healing takes time.
  • Acknowledge improvements. Point out small signs of progress, such as saying, “It was nice to see you at the mall again last week.”
  • Don’t ignore remarks about suicide. Take immediate action if your friend or family member appears to be in crisis.


At the Passage III Gardens, We’re Cultivating More than Plants

“Gardening is for old people,” one of the girls complained, with exasperated look at the ceiling and an emphatic wave of her hands. It was time for Sustainable Living Group and the girls weren’t happy. We were about to head outside to pull weeds and prep the beds for herbs and cauliflower starts. They had yet to understand why this was an activity they should look forward to. “Gardening isn’t just for old people,” I said. “It’s for everyone!”

Gorgeous sunflower on a summer day. Photo by Tiff.

Beautiful view of a sunflower.

This was a rather weak initial response and I didn’t quite know how to clearly and convincingly articulate this to the girls. At that point, it was most likely that they took my reply as an overly peppy intern’s attempt to sell the upcoming activity, which, I admit, was not a completely inaccurate assessment. But, regardless of how my response was interpreted, I really meant it—gardening is, indeed, for everyone. (more…)

PBS NewsHour features Northwest Passage’s In a New Light

Earlier this year, Northwest Passage’s In a New Light program was featured in an episode of Wisconsin Life – we were so honored and grateful to have been given such an amazing platform to showcase the talents of our kids.

In our wildest dreams, we never imagined that NWP and In a New Light would garner national attention for the spot.

But guess what happened!? PBS NewsHour picked up the WPT Wisconsin Life spot, and gave it (and us) new legs! What a fantastic opportunity to reach people throughout the country and even worldwide, and we couldn’t be more excited!

Icing on the cake? Yesterday, PBS NewsHour’s Facebook Page shared the article for all 287,000 of their followers – resulting in almost 100 shares across the social media platform. Wow.

We are beyond humbled, and incredibly excited to share this with you:


Read the article here

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