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Need for Speed met at Riverside through Pinewood Derby



This April was host to the 20th annual pinewood derby races at Northwest Passage Riverside.

The need for speed was racing through our Riverside Creative Arts program as the residents worked feverishly to create unique and original car designs to enter into the big race. From trucks to convertibles, the various designs were tested and adjusted by each student to maximize the speed of their cars. We were even lucky enough to have a celebrity appearance by Mater from the movie Cars as he raced backwards down the track.

After the cars were completed, and race day arrived, we all gathered around our pinewood derby raceway. The races took place, cheers and laughter could be heard echoing around the Riverside grounds, as each student entered their car to race against staff and peers. The excitement and sportsmanship witnessed amongst the residents truly made the 20th annual pinewood derby race a memorable and inspirational experience.

Ben Johnson – Riverside Teacher

Northwest Passage focuses on many areas of care for our kids. One is through our expressive arts program. This program at Riverside gives the boys a chance to take part in classic boyhood experiences that they may be missing out on during their stay with us or that they may never have gotten to experience if they did not come to be with us.


Andrew Walsh is Coming!


For the second year in a row, we are happy to welcome home, former Webster graduate and professional commercial and fine art photographer, Andrew Walsh of Andrew Walsh Photography and Andrew Walsh Productions, to Northwest Passage. He will be here during the week of May 16 – 20 as an artist in residence at our InaNewLight Gallery. During his stay he will be inspiring our students to think big and enhance their story-telling through their fine art photography efforts in our InaNewLight programming.

In addition to this amazing experience for the kids, Andrew also spends time capturing world-class portraits of each resident allowing our kids to see themselves as the beautiful people that they are. Andrew shares these photos with our residents and we all take a moment celebrate our own unique identity and beauty as it shines out from within in the stunning photos.

At the end of this whirl-wind week, we’ll be hosting an open house showcasing Andrew’s work alongside the photographs by the Youth Artists of Northwest Passage. Consider joining us in celebrating our kids and thanking Andrew on Friday, May 20 at 4 PM – 6 PM at the Gallery.

We thank him for sharing his talent and passion with our clients and the community and for making the trip all the way from Oregon – thanks Andrew.


Caring for Flour Babies at Riverside


Meet the “Flour Babies” at Riverside and their proud “parents.”

Northwest Passage’s Riverside boys took on a new experience as they cared for ‘flour babies’ for two days. In health class, the boys had been talking about reproductive systems, pregnancy and childcare. Many classroom discussions were held, power point presentations presented, videos watched, group activities completed, internet research conducted and the final project concluded with each resident caring for their own flour baby.

The boys helped create and dressed their own flour baby, named their flour baby and decided where the baby would sit and sleep for the next two days. The boys had to take their flour baby with him to all areas of programming; school, creative arts, recreation, groups, therapy, etc. While they were in programming, a designated location was decided for daycare.

When this experience was done staff reflected with the boys about the past two days. Many boys enjoyed caring for something else other than themselves and they felt like they were needed by someone. A resident mentioned, “I woke up in the morning and I would check on my baby right away”. The boys learned a lot about themselves through this project, like how caring and compassionate they are but also that many of them are not ready for the responsibility of a baby.


Northwest Passage is dedicated to the experiential education of our kids. Through activities like this, kids are able to bring topics from the classroom to whole new level. Thanks to the dedication of our teachers and staff and support from donors like you, we’re able to offer exceptional opportunities like this that truly teach our kids to enjoy school again.


Thinking outside of the box, with boxes… and MORE!


As you know, our experiential education programming has allowed InaNewLight to soar to great heights and allows learners of all types to reclaim a love for the classroom. Now take a moment to see our educators, and kids, in action as they strive to provide a classroom experience to fit all of our kids’ needs; to ignite a passion for learning.

By combining service, nature, and project-based learning we are curating classroom experiences where our kids are excelling at learning, sometimes for the first time. If you’d like to learn about what we’ve been up to, here are just a few stories to get you started.

We are proud of the education the kids at Passage receive during a very difficult time in their lives. The kids that come to us are dealing with mental health and emotional challenges, but they’re also struggling with the realities of living away from home, meeting new people, making friends, and learning many new life skills. One thing we can do to help ease the kids into their home-away-from-home is to provide an adaptive education that looks and feel like a normal classroom. We still have science fairs, papers due, and those desks connected to their chair, but we also inject project based learning that can open up the classroom to learners of all levels.

Our educational curriculum is guided not only by state and core standards, but by the principals of living the PassageWay – learning to live a Therapeutic Lifestyle. This means that many of the elements to living a therapeutic lifestyle are incorporated into the classroom, resulting in a more dynamic approach to teaching. From service to time spent in nature, our kids have a robust learning experience that we’re proud to say is fully accredited and truly serves as a building block to success in life.


Northwest Passage Riverside Captures Gitchi Gumee In a New Light


Experiential learning on the shores of Lake Superior connects boys to nature, history, and even themselves.

Gitchi Gumee, otherwise known as Lake Superior, lies just over an hour’s drive up the road from Northwest Passage Riverside – practically in our own backyard! Over the course of the next year, the young men at Riverside will turn their camera lenses and desire for adventure to “the Big Lake” while they learn about culture, history, and the environment. They will explore the tributaries, shorelines, lighthouses and beaches while they capture the many faces of the lake and discover the healing power of Gitchi Gumee.

So why are we so excited about spending time at the shores of Gitchi Gumee? Well, for anyone who’s ever been there, it is obvious. But just to be clear let’s talk a little more about her. She is the biggest body of freshwater on earth. Three quadrillion gallons of it sloshing around in a sand and stone basin that was formed by volcanic activity over a billion years ago. From east to west the Lake is just over 350 miles long. From north to south, 160 miles. One could more easily travel from Miami to Seattle than trace each foot of shoreline* along the Lake. The water is home to 78 species of fish, countless invertebrates, mammals and birds. It is so clear that  along most of its coast you can see down deep, to the sandy bottom. However, it’s much deeper than you can see – over 1300 feet at its greatest depth east of the Keweenaw Peninsula. If Lake Superior were drained it would cover the entirety of North America in about a foot and a half of water.

Gitchi Gumee is far more than facts and figures and math and measurements, though. She is calm waves on endless beaches. She is distant horizons with hopeful sunrises and reflective sunsets. She is ice-heaved shorelines in the middle of January and ten foot tall crashing waves on rocky cliffs in October. She is the tributaries and coastal wetlands of her watershed. She is an inland sea with many faces and countless moods.

Please follow our adventures and get to know Gitchi Gumee a little better… and along the way, our special young men.

*If you paddle your kayak fast and you can take some shortcuts, you can make it around in about two months…trust me.

Ian Karl – Experiential Programming Coordinator for Northwest Passage


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Riverside heads to Feed my Starving Children


This month some residents of Northwest Passage Riverside made a real and tangible difference in the lives of children around the world. They did so by donating their time and money to the Coon Rapids-based charity “Feed My Starving Children.”

Students had been studying about South America and Africa in geography class. In addition to learning about the interesting physical features and positive cultural aspects of these continents, students were introduced to the harsh reality of severe poverty that sometimes afflicts children and adults in these (and other) parts of the world.

The goal of the lessons on poverty was not to heap guilt or hopelessness upon our residents, but rather to raise awareness and to prepare them to make a real difference by turning a situation of despair into one of hope.

In preparation for the field trip, residents were given the opportunity to donate their hard-earned “school bucks” (our incentive program at the Riverside School). Many of our students responded to the call and donated a total of $62.75 to the cause of feeding hungry people around the world. (The students’ school bucks were traded in for real dollars at a healthy exchange rate).

At the facility we were given a brief orientation to the goals and impact of Feed My Starving Children and the procedures for making the food packs. After this, three staff with 11 residents helped to scoop, weigh, bag, seal, and box meal packs that were going to be shipped to needy areas around the world. The food packs (called “Manna Packs”) consisted of a vitamin mix, dried vegetables, soy filler, and rice. The cost to produce one of these packs, which make 6 – 12 servings, is a mere 22 cents. The low cost is partially due to the fact that much of the labor needed to produce the Manna Packs is completed by volunteers – like our group of boys from NWP Riverside. Our young men worked energetically and cooperatively to produce numerous boxes of potentially life-saving meals. One resident was so focused on his task in the effort that he refused to take a water break. And while our residents were engaged in serious work, they also had a lot of fun volunteering at the facility with other local school groups. They enthusiastically cheered whenever they completed a box and some of them even felt comfortable enough to loudly sing along to some songs being piped through the facility speakers.

At the conclusion of our shift, we were thanked for our hard work and donation. We also were given a sample of the Manna Pack meals that we had been making. The director of the facility then shared the total number of packs produced at the facility during the shift – enough to provide over 35,000 meals. While this effort involved more than our small group of students, I am very proud of our residents’ contributions in time, energy, and resources to make it happen.


Snow, Ice, and Fishing


Nothing says winter like spending a day on the ice attempting to catch some fish! The Assessment’s Cedar Unit ventured to Big Butternut Lake in Luck to try their hand at ice fishing and bring home the big fish. The students first learned, in the classroom setting, about safety on the ice and the different variety of fish that lived in the lake. They created posters and other projects about the fish they chose to research.

No trip would be complete without learning about how to use the equipment – because let’s admit it – tangled fishing line is just no fun. The kids learned how to hook minnows and be patient (especially when the fish were not biting), as well as set up a tip-up. While waiting for the fish to bite we had a variety of different activities set up for the kids to stay active and engaged. These included building snow sculptures, sliding contests, and ice bowling.

Students also took advantage of the weather and brought cameras to explore a different side of winter – on the ice. Learning about how light affects photography on the ice was a key teaching point. Molly, our expressive arts teacher, worked with several students to identify the most effective angles and how to manipulate light to get the shot they wanted.

Hannah Curran – Assessment, Cedar Unit Teacher

Northwest Passage is committed to the recreational care of our kids. Our teachers and staff get the kids outside trying new recreational activities in order to help the kids find things that they may have not known that they would enjoy. This not only gives them something to look forward to during their stay at Northwest Passage but also teaches them something that they can do for fun when they leave.


Prairieview at the Birkebeiner!


Six young ladies from Prairieview traveled north and braved the bone-chilling rain to volunteer and capture some special moments of the skiers as they traverse the trail in their final miles.

The 43rd American Birkebeiner took place over the past weekend and Northwest Passage was there to capture the action. The young ladies of Prairieview volunteered at the Gravel Pit Aid Station with helping hands. They passed out water, energy drinks, and snacks to the racers. Some of the fastest cross country skiers in the world were on hand along with dedicated citizen racers from around the country. The girls from Prairieview not only volunteered but captured the excitement and emotion of the ski marathon with their cameras.

Together against bullying



160,000 students skip school each day because of bullying and 3.2 million students are bullied each year. Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and poor school adjustment (

At Northwest Passage, we work hard to teach our residents compassion and kindness. Through daily programming, weekly groups and special events, the girls at Prairieview are given many opportunities to learn and practice positive social behaviors that foster empathy and tolerance.

For example, the girls participate in a weekly character development group that covers a variety of traits including: compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance, attitude, preparation, honesty, integrity, self-control, and responsibility. The group allows for a safe space for discussion and personal growth through discussion, activities and weekly homework. The girls also have weekly unit goals that target their interpersonal skills while in treatment, focusing on effective communication and respect for others.

On October 21, 2015, Unity Day was celebrated nationwide and Prairieview participated in full force. The girls participated in a variety of activities including t-shirt decorating and team chalk murals. All staff members were involved as well, with every person in the building wearing orange t-shirts that they personally decorated. The chalk mural project challenged the girls to make a final product that showcased their individual talents as well as their ability to problem solve and work together. 16 residents were split up in to teams and given blank chalkboard canvases and a picture that they had to re-create. The process was amazing to watch and unfolded beautifully. Initially, the teams struggled to communicate and respect each other’s comfort levels with the task. Many groups had to start over while others had to make adjustments throughout the process to keep their artwork consistent. The girls spent several hours working on their pieces and strived for perfection. The murals exceeded all expectations and allowed for very productive, creative and fun team building project. The girls beamed with pride, showing off big smiles as staff expressed their excitement over the finished products. The murals are now hung around the building, reminding all staff and residents on a daily basis that when all differences are set aside, you can work together and be successful!

Your donations make projects like this possible. You are with us when we are teaching these teens to respect each other and show compassion and kindness to everyone they meet. You make it happen. Anything you give makes a difference. Thank you for your support.

Northwest Passage is dedicated to the social care of our kids. This is done through events like Unity Day, where they are taught not to bully their peers, but instead to show respect for all people.


In a New Light Internships now Available!

“In a New Light” Therapeutic Nature Photography

Internships at Northwest Passage

Application Deadline: Applications will be reviewed and considered as they are received, so apply as soon as possible. All applications must be submitted by April 1.

Northwest Passage is seeking talented and caring interns whose passion for nature and creative expression is matched only by their motivation to help children.

Serving over 350 children per year, Northwest Passage has been a leading non-profit youth mental health treatment organization since 1978. But don’t let our age fool you. We implement some of the most dynamic and innovative youth programming you’ll find anywhere. “In a New Light” is a groundbreaking program that harnesses the power of art and nature to instill a sense of hope and empowerment in the lives of struggling youth ( With an emphasis on intensive nature photography training, including underwater photography, the program has a dramatic impact not only on the way our youth view themselves, but also on the way the world views them. Millions have witnessed the youths’ accomplishments through PBS and other television, the TED stage, nationwide exhibitions, documentary film, and other media. Northwest Passage is seeking talented and passionate interns who want learn how to design and implement world-class arts and nature-based programming, and become part of our ambitious mission.

Description of the “In a New Light” Internship:

Northwest Passage is seeking 3-4 interns to assist with either boys’ or girls’ therapeutic nature photography and underwater photography programs. Duties include the following:

  • Directly assist with preparation and implementation of experiential arts and nature-based programming. This includes 1-2 full-day nature photography excursions per week.
  • Directly assist with preparation and implementation of up to one underwater photography excursion per week.
  • Potential to design and implement your own arts or nature-based program if desired, based on your personal skills and interests. This may include music, pottery, creative writing, or any other programming you can envision.
  • Assist participants with with photo editing and processing in the digital darkroom.
  • Coordinate digital file management of youths’ photos.
  • Mentor clients through the process of writing creative reflection to accompany their photos.
  • Work alongside experienced and talented staff. Supervision and mentorship provided by program directors and the Expressive Arts Coordinator.
  • Participate in formal training and discussion sessions and a weekly basis.
  • Assist in day-to-day operations of a residential treatment facility.
  • Assist with special projects and community outreach events as necessary.

  • Free housing
  • Stipend of $500 per month
  • Training and mentorship from skilled leaders and innovators
  • Unmatched real-world experience in the fields of mental health, arts programming, and nature-based programming
Required Abilities:

  • Strong communication skills with both youth and adults
  • Ability to connect to youth from highly diverse backgrounds
  • Comfort in working both independently and in an intense team environment
  • Strong detail-oriented organization and planning skills
  • An authentic interest and comfort in nature, including intense wilderness settings
  • An authentic interest and experience in the arts.
  • Photography and/or filmmaking experience is strongly preferred but not required.

How to apply:

Send the following two items to Ian Karl, Experiential Programming Coordinator at

  1. Cover letter stating why you are interested in gaining experience and skills at Northwest Passage
  2. Detailed resume, including work experience

Watch some videos about our work!

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