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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.

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