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Therapeutic Art Program Helps Reshape Youths’ Futures

Arts bring out kids’ strengths; help them heal

 

Outside, the world is lushly green, it’s pouring rain, and the tune “Here Comes the Sun” floats through the room. There’s a low murmur of voices: nine girls are engaged in shaping animal figures out of clay or drawing fish figures on cardboard. Occasionally there’s laughter at a comment from the instructor’s baritone. You can feel it’s a happy place.

 

That’s exactly one of the outcomes Ian Karl aims for by having Chris Lutter-Gardella as Northwest Passage’s August Artist-in-Residence at the remote Schaefer Cabin located in the Namekagon River watershed. Ian is Northwest Passage’s Experiential Program Coordinator in charge of the program.

 

The Artist-in-Residence program is one of several NWP art programs that evolved from the organization’s 39 year history of promoting a therapeutic lifestyle for their clients. Over the last six years, art has emerged as a strong component of Northwest Passage’s mission. So much so, that one mile south of Webster on State Road 35 NWP opened the In a New Light Gallery.

 

Puppets, masks relate to nature

 

The Gallery features the kids’ art – primarily nature photography – and is open to the public. Why that name? Because through this program the clients are able to see the world around them in a new light and see themselves in a new positive light: capable and creative. That’s a fulfillment of the NWP mission: to restore hope through innovative health services for at-risk children and families.

 

But back to Chris and the girls at the Schaefer Cabin. During his four-week session from July 17 to August 14, thirty-two boys and girls ages 6-17 in four separate groups, came to the cabin in shifts, working on art projects, described by Chris: “We’re creating masks, puppet art pieces and props that relate to the natural world here in the northwoods and also globally that will appear in a music video called Life is Better With You.”

 

The content is consistent with each group. There are three projects: making masks with clay and paper mache, building insect puppets, and creating fish figures In addition to the educational connection with nature, Chris demonstrates conservation and environmental responsibility by using primarily repurposed and recycled industrial materials.

 

He explains: “For the bumblebees, which was our kick-off/warm-up project with the boys the first week, we used plastic bottles that I got from a bottling company down by Stillwater. Wire clothes hangers we used for handles and legs; plastics from mattress bags we repurposed into bee wings.

 

 

 

 

“For the fish, we’re using recycled cardboard boxes; we’ll put scales on them made out of heavier plastic packaging from the furniture industry. The clay forms are mostly recycled clay from the ceramics industry – clay that can’t be fired that typically ends up being dumpster-ed. Newspapers and paper bags we use for the paper mache, with burlap for the fringes around the masks.”

 

Chris connects the projects to cosmology – the nature of the universe: “The bumblebees are our connection with the air. We call them the ‘Keepers of the Air.’ The animals we’re making like the bear, the cougar and other creatures we consider ‘Keepers of the Land,’ and the fish are the ‘Keepers of the Water.’ That encourages the kids to think in terms of elements and different realms the animals help take care of.”

 

Some of the girls worked in pairs to create masks of various animals, real and imagined: cougar, bear, elephant, and dragon. Candice and Lorena were working on the dragon. Candice commented on the art project:I like it. I feel like it’s a way to express your feelings, and it’s a good way to cope with how you’re feeling, too, and how to interact with people. It makes me feel like I can do something that I wasn’t able to do before.”

 

She said she and Lorena like the reemergence of the dragon in popular culture and they wanted to bring one to life. Candice added, “It also represents fire, and I feel like no one else has fire as an animal, so, we’re like, ‘let’s do a dragon.’”

 

Attitudes turn around

 

Chris has worked with youth in the past. He observed, “The girls are just loving it. They’re really getting into sculpting the clay forms for the masks. They seem really invested and dedicated, excited about their pieces. When the art projects are completed, Chris explains, “We’ll take the kids outside and do some fun playing with the masks and props in the woods and along the [Namekagon] river and get some video of that.”

 

Cassie Bauer, a summer intern and student in Digital Media Production at Drake University is documenting and producing the video. Musician Kathryn “Kat” King is providing the accompanying music. The final film will be a rendition of Michael Frante’s Life is Better With You. It will premiere at the Taste of the Trail event at the In a New Light Gallery on September 23rd.

 

The residual and significantly more important outcomes are reflected in the kids’ turn-arounds of attitudes and feelings. Ian noted, “Every one of the kids involved seemed happy doing what they were doing. They were smiling, fully engaged. This sort of activity allows them to separate from their problems, they can block out other noise in the world and focus on the task at hand.”

 

“When we’re engaged in things we enjoy, get fulfillment from and see the results of our work, we’re happier, content and feel a sense of achievement. This fits in to the idea of taking a strength based approach to problem solving. When you help kids find their strengths and give them opportunities to thrive, the mental health challenges they’re facing have the potential to take a back seat. Being engaged in tactile art in a unique location where you can physically feel you’re leaving your troubles behind is really powerful and beneficial.”

 

He continued, “If we consistently focus on the kids’ problems, the mental health challenges and the diagnoses, then all the energy goes into focusing on that. But if we can help them find their strengths and what they have to offer others, they are happier, more content and work better together as a group. And that’s exactly what we see going on at the cabin. When you go to a unique place like [Schaefer Cabin] and are guided by a professional artist with the constant, calm, consistency and experience that Chris provides – that is priceless.”                               

 

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In a New Voice Program

Recently, Northwest Passage has been expanding their creative programs into an experimental writing project called, In a New Voice. The program is highly poetry based but also includes creative non-fiction like a personal essays, journal entries or short stories. Before the residents begin their reflections, they go out in nature and do various activities like hike, canoe, examine rocks, trees, plants and animals. This serves as a way to spark inspiration for their poetry.
Using the material they created from their reflections, they begin to transform those poems into “motion poetry.” Motion Poetry is where the kids pair their poems with images and possibly music in a video format. The residents have been involved with the entire process from the writing, storyboarding, editing and shot selection.
Soon the the program hopes to incorporate a spoken-word component with the residents performing a piece or to in a live reading setting!

I’m here to share my secret.

Be quiet and you shall see.

All the things floating around me will fill your heart with glee.

It will take your breath away and drop your jaw so low, for…

I’ve travelled from here to there and brought back an amazing glow.

You think you know me oh so well

But you’re only at the start.

I’ve travelled past the comets and been burned by the hearts of stars.

I’ve travelled to the planets and seen their awful scars

I’ve made my way through supernovas and been spat out just as hard.

I’ve seen so many planets with mountains high and chasms deep

Galaxies so beautiful they make a giant weep.

I’m the one to wake the planets and send the moon to sleep.

I’ve seen the sun’s great power, with an attitude so rare;

Don’t underestimate the sun for she might give you her ugly glare.

Be careful where you travel, don’t go so far.

Make sure to be safe and always remember who you are.

Don’t tell me that you know me.

That, “right here is what you are.”

I am the universe in motion.

I was born by the stars.

Jazzy

Ancient Traveler

Nature

Calm, Windy

Chirping, Swimming, Fishing

Trees, Grass, Park, McDonalds

Walking, Laughing, Crying

Noisy, Crowded

City

5 senses

Julia

Inspiration by: “I am a Tree” Laleta Davis-Mattis

 

I am an owl

A wise, wise owl

I am constantly on the prowl

I search up high

I search down low

There are many places that I can go

I see the mice running around

So that I can swoop them off the ground

Then take them to my nest up high

Which is up, up, up in the sky

 

I am an owl

A wise, wise owl

I am constantly on the prowl

I think about how the human race

Could possibly get me misplaced

How the destruction of trees

Is as far as I can see

And I ponder if they get my nest

Will I then call those humans pests

For the rest of eternity.

Caroline

I Am An Owl

Check out more In a New Voice videos here!

New Resources Refresh the Equine Therapy Program

Thanks to our clinical director Angela Frederickson, we have been able to provide Equine Therapy to our Northwest Passage kids for the past eight years. It has been an excellent experience for many of our kids and we are so happy to announce that our program is not only flourishing but it is also growing!

Passage is bringing back horses to the Gallery grounds on Fridays for the Riverside boys. Horses will also now be available at the Prairieview and Assessment facilities. Plus we have added another EAGALA certified clinician at Riverside who can facilitate the Riverside programming at the Gallery.

EAGALA stands for Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. According to Eagala.org, EAGALA is the leading international nonprofit association for professionals incorporating horses to address mental health and personal development needs. Incorporating horses into our kid’s treatment plans is a refreshing way that they can become more introspective.

Equine therapy can be a great tool used by our residents. Associate editor at Psych Central, Margarita Tartakovsky M.S. explains, “Because horses can sense a person’s feelings and respond accordingly, they can serve as a mirror that the person can use to see and understand feelings they may not be aware of.”

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The EAGALA website states, “To evade predators, horses have evolved to be extremely sensitive to their environment. They instinctively analyze and react to our body language and other nonverbal cues. As a result, we are able to gain insight into our own nonverbal communication and behavior patterns. The EAGALA Model invites clients into an arena for ground-based interaction with horses to facilitate the therapeutic process. These horses become the focal point in client-driven discovery and analysis.”

Our newest EAGALA clinican, Kayla said, “I grew up riding horses in northwest Wisconsin with my family. One of the horses I am bringing to Passage has been with me since I was 12 years old and he has not only taught me how to ride, but also taught me how horses can impact people from the ground.”

The EAGALA model is based on off all groundwork; at no point does a client ever mount or ride a horse. By just being in the arena with the horses our clients can experience comfort, support and sometimes even a challenge. At that point, the horses become a part of the treatment team because they are apart of the recovery process and what happens in the arena. As part of the EAGALA model the animal is represented as a professional partner.

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EAGALA has more of a mental health focus compared to other horse therapy programs and is all about giving the kids a place to be themselves and to experience their issues in the moment. It requires a lot of trusting in the horses to take care of the session and to be able to sense what is needed in that moment.

Horses require relationships to be built in order to trust. They require relationship repair the same as any person would after damage has been made, but they don’t pre-judge the way that people tend to. The horses do not get a rundown of the client’s mental health history or any background information.

Tartakovsky continues to explain the opportunities for cultivating healthy relationships; “Horses offer the person a non-judging relationship, which can help a person struggling with the negative relationship consequences from his mental illness to rebuild his confidence without fear of criticism.”
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During our equine sessions, the horses are set loose and are free to roam around the arena so that they are able to be themselves. They each have their own personalities and mannerisms. It is entirely up to the residents to interpret the feedback that the horses give. The clinicians who facilitate these sessions are strictly there to provide emotional and physical safety if need be.

EAGALA is about trusting the herd. Due to this being such an experiential model, it is important that the horses names, genders, and ages are not identified to the clients so that they can utilize them as they see necessary in the moment.

Overall, Northwest Passage is excited to be exploring another innovative therapeutic method so the work can continue to expand on our diverse, yet effective paths of healing. By taking to these new techniques, it is just one more way Passage stands out from other residential treatment facilities. Northwest Passage continues to look forward to seeing all the progress our kids will make due to equine therapy!

Expressions in Watercolor

BRIGHT AND BRILLIANT COLOR.

BOLD AND BRAVE STROKES.

WET PAINT IN THE WELLS OF PALETTES.

INTENSE FOCUS, THOUGHTS, AND EMOTIONS ON PAPER.

For the last three months, the Prairieview residents have explored the world of watercolor during expressive arts class. Not only can watercolor painting be an enjoyable activity, but it has multiple health benefits, including improving creativity, memory, communication skills and problem solving skills. On an emotional level, painting with watercolors can relieve stress, increase positive emotions and release hidden emotions.

After practicing and getting to know the media, the Prairieview residents were allowed to take the creative reigns and come up with their own ideas and subjects to put into their work. An amazing thing happened when they were allowed this freedom: in enabling one’s emotions to flow through art, one can create a better grasp on her varying feelings. Whether it’s the ebb and flow of joy and sadness, or more complex emotions, the Prairieview residents ultimately increased their emotional intelligence. Getting to witness their restoration of hope and possibly some healing through watercolor painting is quite an incredible experience.

At the end of the unit, the Prairieview residents held a small exhibit of their final watercolor projects at our In a New Light Gallery to show off their new found skills and to take pride in completing the watercolor unit. As their Expressive Arts Teacher, it brought me great pride and joy to see their faces light up as they walked into the exhibit to see their very own fine art on display. Each resident got a chance to speak with patrons of the Gallery about their artworks as well as indulge a little on the delicious snacks provided. I truly could not be more proud of their efforts.

Molly Thompson, Expressive Arts Counselor 

Paintbrush in my hand. Stuff on my mind. Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Thinking about the night before.Worrying for the future. You can’t change any of that. But only you choose how to handle it.

I found the watercolor unit helped me cope with the fear and worry that I would carry on my shoulders.
It was just me and the watercolor.

I challenge everyone to take at least five minutes out of the day, TV and cellphones off, and just focus on an art project. I challenge you to explore the aroma of Water Color Painting.

Jourdyn, age 15

Watercolors is one of the units that our expressive arts counselor guides our kids through. It is a recreational, relaxing activity, that allows for exploration of spirituality. Like Jourdyn describes above, it allows them to get lost in creativity letting their worries fade away while reflecting on things that matter to them.

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New Research Supports Efforts at Passage

BEHAVIORAL THERAPY PAIRED WITH PSYCHOTHERAPY REDUCES SELF-HARM

We see evidence of the power of residential treatment paired with living a therapeutic lifestyle in our clients progress towards mental health up close and personal, but it is always nice to read research to support that experience. This year, a Norwegian study found that using “behavioral therapy that teaches coping skills, used in conjunction with psychotherapy, not only significantly reduces self-harm among adolescents but also more rapidly leads to recovery from suicidal ideation and depression than enhanced usual care.”

Program Director, Ellen Race, says that “we are always happy to see evidence that supports what we are doing for our clients.” The specific therapy addressed in the article is one that Northwest Passage uses in its Prairieview and Riverside programs, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is, “a type of therapy that focuses on developing the behaviors skills and coping mechanisms for our kiddos so that they can navigate life’s challenges in a healthy and sustainable way.” Angela Fredrickson, Clinician Director for Riverside explains. She goes on to say that, “DBT is a part of our efforts to promote the skills and experiences necessary to commit to living a therapeutic lifestyle long after treatment ends. We are giving access to our clients to practice living a healthy lifestyle and DBT fits right in with that. It is grounded in mindfulness, being active and expressive in a healthy way, and building healthy relationships – which are key elements necessary to live therapeutically.”

To learn more about the PassageWay and living a therapeutic lifestyle, please visit our website and to read the article summarizing the research in full, please visit the Medscape article: Self-harm in Teens: Rapid Response With Novel Behavior Therapy. 

We know it is essential to pair expert psychotherapy with the tools necessary to make change, it is something we do every single day with our kids. Our guiding principles are articulated through the PassageWay, which proposes that the journey to building a healthy lifestyle includes the building of skill and insight through psychotherapy intervention, the judicious use of psychotropic medication, and a commitment to providing access to therapeutic lifestyle moments for our clients to actively heal and practice being well.

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Prairieview goes to Namekagon River on photojournalism assignment

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.

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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.

Branda Collage

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.

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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.

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