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Riverside boys soaring to new heights


The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 1537, of Siren, WI, is giving a few of our kids an opportunity that has and will send them to new heights. The group of pilots has given them the chance to serve their team and have offered to take us flying so that our young photographers can test their skills at aerial photography.

The kids took photos and watched stunt pilots perform, while also helping with other tasks like crowd supervision, during the Gandy Dancer Fly In/Drive In Airshow. This show helped to build their confidence, as they were asked to help manage the spectators around the airshow area. It helped to connect them with some more role models and allowed them to give back to our community. They also got to practice their photography skills. And most of all … they were inspired by the people!

Xavier, 14 – Riverside Client reflects on experience:

I recently had the opportunity to meet Susan Dacy at the Gandy Dancer Airshow in Siren, WI. Susan was the ONLY woman to perform in the show.

Susan Dacy, along with Big Red, are such a phenomenal team. Susan really relies on Big Red to help put her skills to the test. Her Sterman Aircraft was by far my favorite to take pictures of. The vibrant colors of “Big Red” really drew me in.

Susan was so willing and open to sharing her experiences with both kids and adults. As she was talking, I quickly noticed how passionate she was for flying. She described how she became very interested in flying at a very young age. I became so fascinated by how much she knew. One of the first questions I remember asking her was “How do you fit inside of that little compartment?” She explained that it was a little bit of a challenge considering there was not a whole lot of room. I also noticed as I watched Susan interact with younger kids that she had such a warm smile on her face. I think it really lit them up.

I really enjoyed meeting Susan Dacy. It felt wonderful to be able to have the opportunity and I am so happy and honored to have had the chance to meet and talk with such a kind and talented woman. She is a great person with so much experience. Susan really takes pride in what she is doing.

Having such a positive experience with Susan really made me realize that I could be whatever I want to be as long as I put my mind to it.

Thank you for sharing your time with us Susan!

Next, the kids get to take part in the EAA Young Eagles event happening at the Siren Airport. They will get the full experience getting to fly with the other kids participating. They will bring their cameras to take aerial shots, but also help the EAA group by taking photos of the kids and pilots before they take their turn in the cockpit.

At Northwest Passage we know that service to others not only provides benefits to those who receive, but also to those who give. Our kids get the opportunity to give to the Siren Chapter of the EAA by helping them with their events, but the EAA pilots are also giving to our kids by volunteering to take them up in their planes and being strong role models for our youth.


Prairieview headed to Apostle Islands


Prairieview will be exploring Apostle Islands National Park and Lake Superior again this year as the capstone of their underwater photography programming. With Artist in Residence, Andrew Walsh, going along, nighttime photography will also be added to the experience.

On Monday, August 22, the group will meeting up with the National Park Service Apostle Islands crew at Little Sand Bay Visitor Center. Some of the group will be kayaking, while others will ride the NPS boat from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island. After arriving and setting up camp, the kids will have time to explore the beach and island.

The next two days will be spent underwater taking photos at Swallow Point Sea Caves, along with kayaking, while their nights will be spent trying out night sky photography with Andrew on East Bay and at the Sand Island Lighthouse.

Northwest Passage thrives to bring new experiences to our kids. Over the past couple years, our teenage explorers have set out on an adventure that few have experienced with underwater photography. They have learned about and documented the underwater ecosystems of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway through stunning photographs. This journey continues in 2016 as they dive deeper into Lake Superior and other local lakes and rivers. The photographs they capture not only represent the kids’ exploration and discovery of the world underwater, but also of themselves.


Our Kids Experience Broadway “In a New Light” … AND Sound


If you have ever shuddered due to a loud noise or had to cover your eyes due to something being extremely bright, you have experienced a very small piece of what people who have sensory sensitivities deal with on a daily basis.

Individuals with sensory sensitivities, often linked to those on the autism spectrum or other mental health challenges, usually over-respond or under-respond to stimulation. This leads to them being unable to enjoy many activities and/or experiences like attending the theater. It can also cause them to be unaware of their surroundings or display extreme behaviors, such as tantrums and meltdowns.

In order to give these people an opportunity that they have not previously had, places like Stages Theatre and Children’s Theatre Company in the Twin Cities host sensory-friendly performances throughout the year. For the first time ever, the Orpheum Theatre, a Minneapolis treasure, hosted one of these special performances with “The Lion King.”

According to the StarTribune, it was the “first Broadway production to try a special ‘sensory-friendly’ staging,” read more in, ‘Lion King’ tempers the roar.

The best part? Our kids got to be a part of this extraordinary experience. Five boys and five girls from our programs took the trip to the cities to see this production of a Disney family favorite film.

“The boys were so excited for the show that they sang Disney songs in the van all the way to the cities,” said Angela Fredrickson, Riverside Clinical Director.

The Orpheum Theatre lowered the sound, kept the theater lights on at a low level, and reduced the use of strobe and other lighting. They also allowed patrons to talk freely to each other or the performers and to leave their seats during the performance. They had designated spaces for those who needed to stand or move. There were quiet areas in the theater where people could go whenever needed and the theater was filled with trained staff who were available to help with any needs of those attending.

Viewers ranged greatly in their sensitivities. Some were severely autistic, while others had a low tolerance to loud noises or bright lights. “The boys noticed some of the other kids in the theater and reported feeling like it was an awesome opportunity for those kids and their parents to be able to attend a live performance,” Angela said.

While there were changes in lights and sounds, the play was the same. Through words, music, and dance, the performers told the tale of a young lion and his pride along the cub’s incredible journey to becoming king.

“On the way home, the girls all took time to reflect on this truly amazing experience,” explained Kristy Echeverria, Prairieview Weekend Primary Counselor

Northwest Passage is always looking for new opportunities to give to our kids. The chance to go to the Orpheum Theatre is something that we could not pass up and the fact that it was a sensory-friendly performance was the icing on the cake. “Field trips to live theater enhance literary knowledge, tolerance and empathy among students,” according to a study done by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Read more in, Major benefits for students who attend live theater, study finds.


Swimming with a Pro



In an already exciting and highly productive season of underwater photography at Northwest Passage, we’re thrilled about the upcoming visit of acclaimed filmmaker and photographer Sachi Cunningham. A resident of San Francisco, Sachi’s work often centers on water stories.  Next week she’ll become part of our young photographers’ stories as she dives in as a guest mentor and Artist in Residence.

From her bio at

“Sachi Cunningham is a documentary filmmaker and Professor of Multimedia Journalism at San Francisco State University. Her award winning stories have screened at festivals worldwide, and on outlets including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, PBS FRONTLINE, FRONTLINE/World and the Discovery Channel. The Emmys, Webbys, and Pictures of the Year International have honored Cunningham’s work. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Brown University, Cunningham’s documentaries focus on international conflict, the arts, disability, and the ocean environment. On land she has turned her lens everywhere from the first presidential election in Afghanistan, to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the water, she has swum with her camera along side everything from 350-pound blue fin tuna to big wave surfers, to Olympian, Michael Phelps. Once an assistant to actress Demi Moore and Director/Producer/Writer Barry Levinson, Cunningham brings a decade of experience in feature films and commercial productions in New York, Hollywood and Tokyo to her career in journalism and filmmaking.”

Sachi’s most recent film, The Memory of Fish, about the intertwined and precarious journeys of people and salmon on the Elwha River in Washington, was just nominated for a Panda Award—also called the “Green Oscars”— which is considered the highest accolade in the environmental film and TV industry.  Congratulations, Sachi!

Sachi will be swimming and photographing with our Prairievew girls all day Monday, followed by a film showing and discussion at Prairivew of It Ain’t Pretty a film about women’s big wave surf culture in California. Sachi was both helped shoot and was featured in this film. Then on Tuesday she’ll hang out with our Lakeshore boys.

You can check out some of Sachi’s work on her website and follow her on twitter!


Northwest Passage is dedicated to the artistic growth of our kids. We do this through programs like Artist in Residence (AiR). AiR is designed to provide a therapeutic experience with the arts for our kids with talented artists and craftsmen.


State Representitives visit Passage

From left to right: State Senator Sheila Harsdorf, Representative Adam Jarchow, Northwest Passage Executive Director Mark Elliott, and Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett


Northwest Passage is always working to expand the visibility of our kids’ talents and worth through our In a New Light Gallery. Their work has been displayed at exhibits, both nationally and locally, and have been seen by over a million people! But there are still people who haven’t seen their work. That is why Northwest Passage hosted local tourism advocates at our gallery to meet with State Officials to discuss tourism in Burnett County and introduce them to the beauty of our area through our nature photography and the spirit of our kids. “We were honored to have the Senator, State Representative, and the Secretary at our Gallery. To be able to walk them through our space and introduce them to our kids was really special,” says Executive Director Mark Elliott.

Opportunities like these, where local community members come together with state level officials don’t happen every day. We’re thrilled to have had the time and space to foster a moment of awe for our visitors at the In a New Light Gallery and to collaborate on enriching our community. But we weren’t the only ones to enjoy it. Check out what our guests had to say below!

It was a great opportunity for NWP to share all the amazing work our kids our doing. Most of the youth that come into our program never get to celebrate anything positive in their lives. The Gallery gives them an opportunity to share their photography and stories not only with their family members, but also the community. To have representatives from the State of Wisconsin come in and see that the kids are making progress on their path to hope and healing was just incredible.

Chanda Elliott

Development Director, Northwest Passage

Tremendous visit, we gained a lot of information. We hope that State Senator Sheila Harsdorf will come back in the fall. The Burnett County Coalition would host a fall dinner meeting and a large informational meeting at which the Senator could present to the county business leaders.

Larry Main

Owner and Operator, The Main Store

It was great to  have Sec. Klett visit Burnett County and share her tourism spirit! Sen. Harsdorf and Rep. Jarchow demonstrated their support for economic development by getting out and learning about the great things happening in Burnett County.

Mike Kornmann

Community Development Agent, UW Extension - Burnett County

The meeting was great.  It was wonderful to have the opportunity to discuss our local tourism environment and needs with Secretary Klett, Senator Harsdorf, and Representative Jarchow.

Their keen interest and open willingness to work with us to enhance our Burnett County tourism efforts was very apparent as they offered staff assistance, e.g. Burnett County Farmers’ Market ‘farm to table’ grant review, and proven ideas, e.g. ‘county wide’ Restaurant Week, to bolster our local economy.  With return on investment being an 8:1 ratio, focus on growth in tourism must be seen and remain as a key area for our county’s continued success, which they are in full support.

Chris Moeller

Executive Director, Siren Chamber of Commerce


Kids and Cait celebrated at Artist Reception


An Artist Reception was held at the Gallery Thursday, June 30. It celebrated our kids and their sketches during our first month-long Artist in Residence program. Muralist and painter, Cait Irwin, was the artist that took on the adventure of this project. Each kid got to spend one day each week working with Cait on drawing. Cait took the sketches the kids did, which were a piece of the child that completed them, and placed them into a collage. These “Mind on Paper” collages were hung up for the reception and will remain in the Gallery for all to enjoy for the next month.

“I can’t say enough good things about Cait. Her connection with the kids and staff was so incredible. My favorite part of the reception was seeing the kids light up when they found their drawing,” explained Chanda Elliott, Northwest Passage’s Development Director.

Read what Cait had to say about the past month:

My Northwest Passage/Schaefer Cabin Experience
Cait Irwin, Artist

When you’re a travelling artist you never really know what to expect when you arrive at a new “job” site. Especially, if it is the first go at a totally experimental program. As June drew closer my excitement had swelled to a fever pitch. It had almost been a year since my initial contact with Northwest Passage’s experiential programming coordinator and college friend, Ian Karl, about this ‘Artist in Residence’ pipe dream. It was to take place in a remote location along the Namekagon River. I wanted to jump into the month-long residency with as little expectation as possible. My mind and heart needed to be a blank canvas ready to take in this mysterious experience.

The only thing that I could expect was what I was personally going to offer. I knew that I would be sharing my experiences with mental illness, and more importantly, how I have used art throughout my life to cope.  At the same time I hoped to inspire the kids at Northwest Passage and give them a feeling of hope for the possibility of a new future. I wanted to express to them that our struggles CAN make us stronger while deepening an appreciation for the world around us.

Schaefer Cabin Residency site:
The first thing that I noticed about the cabin was the fact that it was so isolated. It was refreshing to be occupying a space where I couldn’t hear any man-made sounds. What a great reminder that wild and quiet places still exist in this insanely loud and busy world. Just the drive out to the historical Schaefer Cabin was like slowly leaving the daily hustle and my mind had the opportunity to slow down. I know that the kids and staff alike felt that too as they travelled out for our daily sketching sessions.

It was incredibly important to transform the cabin into a haven for safe self-expression and raw creation. To assist with this process I brought multiple paintings and drawings of my own to occupy the space. My work itself served as an example that when we were in the cabin we were all safe to express our innermost thoughts and feelings. While in the Schaefer Cabin, everyone’s work would be respected and celebrated, and I think it was felt by all who entered.

Art Sessions:
The design of my program was simple as I was to work with almost all of the kids currently attending Northwest Passage.  Each time they came out to the cabin they would work in a communal sketchbook. They were given a variety of pencils and charcoals to use as tools of expression. We eased into the process by starting with a “free sketch” session and then moved into more focused exercises throughout the month. The common thread in our once-a-week two-hour sessions was that it wasn’t about the end product but about the process. Also the very act of drawing seems to slow down the frantic world around you. It was also important to tell them that while they were in the cabin with me they are my art students and that I would treat them as such.

I was honestly blown away by how the Northwest Passage kids jumped right in! Almost everyone picked up a sketchbook and pencil pack and immediately worked with total focus. The cabin was filled with the sound of pencils moving across paper and in the background trees rustled, birds sang, and some classical music softly played.  What moved me the most was the fearlessness that the kids so steadily demonstrated. Not one hesitated or even mentioned their lack of artistic abilities. The idea of the “process” seemed to be a part of their own intuition.

After a solid thirty minutes (at least) of drawing we would come together as a group and share what we had created. With almost 100% participation each student showed their own unique style and perspective. The most amazing thing was that there was never a time when a participant put down another’s work. The idea of the cabin being a safe place was taken seriously amongst all of the students.

As we moved through the month and began building a genuine rapport with each other, the work began to take on a more honest and emotional tone. Sometimes the work exploded like a firework and other times it presented itself so subtly you would almost overlook it. The whole spectrum from humor to sadness was represented daily.

Sometimes on my drive home I would find myself laughing and also crying as I recalled our precious time at the cabin. Every time I left the cabin I was absolutely exhausted, and at the same time completely inspired. I could not help but think about my own time spent as a teenager dealing with depression in a very clinical setting. I would have thrived in a program like Northwest Passage … a program that embraces all of the beautiful, complex and intricate aspects of each individual, while connecting to the natural world.

Final Project: Mind on Paper Collages
At the end of our sessions the kids had the option to sign their work or stay anonymous. If they wanted to share their work with the world they would put a star in the corner. Getting their permission and giving them the option of taking ownership of their sketches was how I could show kindness and respect for their thoughts and feelings. I was truly in awe when the majority of students proudly signed their work and wanted to boldly share it with the world!

In Closing:
It makes me very proud that I was asked to be the pioneer for this unique and exciting month-long residency program. And as the initial logistical bumps began to smooth out I could see with clarity that this is the kind of work that grounds me.  I feel that it is important to share yourself with a spirit of empathy and compassion, even if only to show someone that they are not alone in the world.

There is no way I could properly capture all of the incredible aspects of this pilot program in one artist statement alone. Honestly, I am not sure that any arrangement of words could capture the transformative and inspiring nature of this residency. I have a renewed hope for the world after meeting so many dedicated staff members of Northwest Passage and the National Park Service. These individuals have put a vision of compassion, for all people, and an appreciation for the natural world into action. As for all of the kids I met, each one has renewed my calling to pass along the message that art heals. I will leave here carrying a heavy load of inspiration, memories, and exciting visions of how to keep growing this program for years to come.


This Artist in Residency was made possible through a generous grant from the St. Croix Valley Foundation, The Wisconsin Arts Board and Eastern National. More about Cait can be found on her website at

Northwest Passage is looking for more artists that would be great role models and would like to inspire our kids to reach for their dreams. If interested, please see this web page for more information.


Artist in Residence: Eric Genuis and Musicians Perform for Kids


Composer, pianist, and performer, Eric Genuis, accompanied by a violinist, cellist, and another singer, returned as an Artist in Residence to play for the kids of Northwest Passage for the second time in eight months. Back in October, Eric and his team played at our Gallery. This time these talented musicians spent their time playing at our Frederic location for over 30 of the kids from our programs.

Eric made the concert interactive by walking among them, asking them questions, and looking to them for questions and comments. His message was about beauty, how music has an influence on each of us, and how we should all surround ourselves with things of hope and encouragement. They played and talked for over two hours.

One of the kids said to the musicians, “your cello reminds me of my mom. It’s like the cello is the mommy, the violin is the kid, and the piano is the foster kid!”

Kristy Echeverria, Northwest Passage Weekend Counselor, describes the experience:

I have worked with kids from all walks of life and every end of the spectrum since 2008. In this time, I have found that they have one particular thing in common, their love and passion for music. It is not only love for music but also the effect that music has on them.

Eric Genuis coming in and playing for the kids at Northwest Passage was an incredible experience. The kids were so engaged and in awe of the beauty that took place. For many of them this was the first time they had heard music that wasn’t playing on the Pop charts.

They responded incredibly well to Eric’s messages. They really absorbed his main message on how what music we put in our brains is the type of output we get. Not only did he demonstrate this by playing three types of music to the same story, but he also discussed his knowledge of other artists. It was wonderful to see their reactions when Eric was able to list off facts about the artists they are currently listening to.

As he spoke, I was able to see a small, fiery passion spark in many of the kids. Several asked questions and a few even had the opportunity to have a small jam session with him after the show.

Eric truly brought an amazing message that seemed to hit home with many. They even continued to discuss it days later. He did a great job, not only performing, but being able to engage in a more personal manner with them. We are truly thankful that he and his musicians took the time to share their talents, passions, and messages.


  • All photos and video were shot by Prairieview residents. To learn more about Eric Genuis, check out this VIDEO


Tune into WPR for Lexie’s take on residential treatment


When Lexie came to Northwest Passage, she was a diamond in the rough. Under all her pain and trauma was a beautiful individual waiting to become her best self. She exemplifies why we do what we do. We’re not surprised by her successes and we’re certainly not surprised by how eloquently she spoke about her experiences while here at Passage in a recent Wisconsin Public Radio interview. Take a moment to listen to what she has to say about her experience at PASSAGE ON WPR.


“Nature has help me find myself, by teaching me about myself.”


“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” ~ I relate to this quote because when life got hard, many people left because I was a ‘lost cause’, I came back a stronger, better, sober person. It would have been easy to give up, quit and go back to old habits, and sometimes I still feel like giving up, but I like who I am. I wouldn’t want to be anybody different.


What seems like so long ago I saw someone I hated, a monster staring back at me, not my reflection. But now upon a second look I see someone new, someone beautiful. All it took was another glance, and a little bit of effort to peel back the mask that was plastered on so tight. I look into the mirror now and see me.


One day I will be old and my skin gray, my hair white as freshly fallen snow, my voice will croak as if I were a frog. One day my days will be numbered, my skin will be wrinkled and creased, my hair may no longer be, and my voice will just be a haunting song. One day I will cease to exist. A few trinkets and odds and ends no home to permanently reside, snippets of memory will play from time to time, but nothing of real value. And given a few more years I will be nothing. Not a distant memory, no words to dance though your mind, nothing will be left except a ghost of me.


At Northwest Passage we know the power of residential treatment first hand – we see it every day! Our treatment provides a safe space for kids to heal, the time and support to develop new tools and skills for coping with the stresses of dealing with mental health issues, and provides access to a truly therapeutic lifestyle and environment designed to support long-term wellness into the future. In fact, clients in residential treatment improve significantly and “maintain their treatment gains at follow-up” providing hope for a long-term impact on their overall wellness.


Horses back on the job


The warm smell of hay and the sound of hoof beats will once again greet you if you visit the back lot of the Northwest Passage Gallery in Webster.  Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) sessions have resumed for the warm weather season.  EAGALA facilitators Angela Fredrickson and Shannon Brice work on a weekly basis with small groups, families, and individuals from each of the treatment programs at Northwest Passage.

The youth in the treatment programs have been working with the equine therapy team since the first week of May.  They have been exploring their path to sobriety, learning about relationship building, discovering the role of judgment in their lives, and working to find harmony in their living groups with the help of the four-legged practitioners.

This year a new horse has found her way onto the team.  Her late-in-life change in career seems to be an excellent fit as her open, expressive manner has drawn in many residents.  We are early in the season and she has already been described as “the most beautiful animal I have ever seen” and “my best friend.” Alternatively, she has also demonstrated the art of being aware of danger and the complexity of conflict as she works to reflect what has entered the arena space.

What’s up with using horses in therapy anyway?

The use of horses through the EAGALA model is experiential.  This means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses and then processing or discussing thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and patterns.  Through active, solution-focused participation, clients can tell their own story and begin to create metaphor that can facilitate change in their lives.

Horses are large and powerful animals which draw our attention.  It requires a level of confidence to interact with them and working to overcome fear in this work can be a useful intervention.  Additionally horses are naturally social animals and are extraordinarily sensitive to non-verbal communication. The horses’ responses give us information that can bring awareness of problem spots in our lives and can help motivate change by being an emotionally safe, external symbol of relationships.  Their responses to us can feel quite familiar to the responses we experience from those in our day-to-day lives making work with horses prime for the creation of metaphor.

Angela Fredrickson, LCSW – Clinical Director

Study on referential communication in horses:

Link to EAGALA website

Northwest Passage is committed to providing a diverse set of therapy opportunities to our kids. We are happy to be able to provide Equine Therapy sessions to our kids as an alternative way to open up and communicate about themselves and their lives. Those of us who have had an opportunity to experience the safety and comfort of Equine Therapy, can say just how special this is. Thank you to Shannon and Angela for making this happen. To learn more about our Equine Therapy sessions, please check out past articles on the subject here and here.


Running Riverside


The Riverside boys ran riverside at the St. Croix Falls, WI, City of Trails Trailrun. A few of our boys ran the 5K race and one even won it! Garrett took first place overall with a time of 18:03.68, with the next racer coming in almost 20 seconds later.

“I started running when I was 13 and never gave it up. I always push through the pain. Today, I showed up expecting to finish in the top five but I took first overall. When I run it feels like it’s me and the course,” Garrett explained.

The City of Trails Trailrun “5K course follows asphalt paths though beautiful woodland, city streets lined with historic houses, and quaint downtown St. Croix Falls. The last leg treks past the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Visitor Center and alongside the St. Croix River on the Gaylord Nelson Riverwalk to a spectacular finish at the Overlook Deck.” –

The photos of the participants were taken by a couple of their peers.

Northwest Passage believes healthy bodies help keep healthy minds. Exercise is a central component of treatment in the programs, one being running group. There is a large body of evidence that points to the benefits of exercise and movement in the promotion of both mental health and cognition. Taking part in community races is just one way to get the kids exercising.


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