“Breaking Our Silence”

The Sophie Fund is sponsoring “Breaking Our Silence: Storytelling for Mental Health,” a series of film, theater, dance, literature, music, and other activities in Ithaca beginning April 23 “to increase empathy, build understanding, and help lift the shroud of shame and secrecy around mental illness.”

The series is organized by Story House Ithaca, a new project of the Center for Transformative Action that aims “to bring people together to share, study, create, and enjoy stories in all their forms.”

“Mental health is central to so many of our lives, but we rarely talk about it in public,” said Story House Ithaca Co-Director Jonathan Miller. “Sharing our stories, in whatever form, is good for us and for the people we care about.”

Co-Director Lesley Greene agreed: “We’ve got so many amazing community partners offering such a wide range of activities. I hope everyone will find something to connect with.”

Check out Story House Ithaca’s “Breaking our Silence” website for more information about the schedule and registration. “Breaking Our Silence” is also sponsored by the Community Arts Partnership, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes

Saturday April 23, 3:30–5 pm, Community School of Music and Arts

“Acknowledging and Releasing our Stories of Anxiety”

A workshop led by Kathy Lucas and Megan Omohundro focuses on introspection as it relates to static energy of the body, mind and spirit. It brings awareness to stored tension and the manifestations of anxiety in the body by exploring breath work, gestures, physical shapes, movement pathways and verbal expression.

Saturday April 30, 3:30–5 pm, Community School of Music and Arts

“Feeling, Honoring, and Releasing our Stories of Grief”

A dance and movement workshop led by Kathy Lucas and Megan Omohundro focuses on introspection as it relates to static energy of the body, mind, and spirit. It brings awareness to stored tension and the manifestations of grief in the body by exploring breath work, gestures, physical shapes, movement pathways, and verbal expression.

Monday May 2, 6:30–8:30 pm, via Zoom

“NAMI Smarts for Advocacy”

A hands-on advocacy training program from the National Alliance on Mental Illness that helps people living with mental disorders, friends, and family transform their passion and lived experience into skillful grassroots advocacy. The program will guide participants through a step-by-step, skill-building method designed for those who are new to advocacy as well as individuals with years of experience. 

Tuesday May 3, 5:30–7 pm, Argos Inn Solarium

“Story Night”

An informal gathering with games and an open mic with storytellers and story lovers hosted by Regi Carpenter, author, performer, and pioneer in Narrative Medicine.

May 6-15, Hangar Theater

“Delia Divided”

A Civic Ensemble production written by Judy K. Tate in collaboration with the ReEntry Theatre Program and directed by Gabriella da Silva Carr tells the story of a young black woman who grew up in the foster care system and now as a young adult grapples with the intersecting forces of mental health, racism, and incarceration.

Sunday May 8, 10 am, First Unitarian Society of Ithaca

“Regi Carpenter: Breaking the Singular Story”

A sermon on the complexity of mental illness and the people who are affected by it, by Regi Carpenter, author, performer, and pioneer in Narrative Medicine.

Sunday May 8, 7-8 pm, via Zoom

“Taboo, Interrupted: Writing Mental Illness”

Ithaca College writing faculty members Eleanor Henderson, Joan Marcus, Jaime Warburton, and Katie Marks participate in a Spring Writes Literary Festival panel discussion on approaches to writing about mental illness that are accurate, non-exploitative, and compelling.

Tuesday May 10, 5:30–7 pm, Durland Alternatives Library, Anabel Taylor Hall, Cornell University

“Prisoner Express”

A show-and-tell presentation by Gary Fine on Prisoner Express, a program he founded to help break the isolation and despair of incarcerated people through writing, reading, and art.   

Sunday May 15, 4-6:30 pm, Cinemopolis


Screening of an award-winning documentary about the mental health system followed by a Q&A session with filmmaker Peter Miller.

Saturday May 21, 7:30 pm, Kulp Auditorium, Ithaca High School

“Breaking Our Silence: A Performance and Celebration”

An evening of performances and readings by storyteller Regi Carpenter, dancers Kathy Lucas and Megan Omohundro, mental health activist Beth McGee, Civic Ensemble, and the Ithaca High School Choir led by Kristin Zaryski.

Sunday May 22, 10 a.m., First Baptist Church in Ithaca

“Regi Carpenter: Breaking the Singular Story”

A sermon on the complexity of mental illness and the people who are affected by it, by Regi Carpenter, author, performer, and pioneer in Narrative Medicine.

Five Years After The Watershed Declaration

Five Aprils ago, The Sophie Fund organized a meeting of community mental health stakeholders representing 18 governmental and non-profit organizations from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

Co-Founder Scott MacLeod introduced The Sophie Fund to the community, explaining that it was established in memory of his daughter who died by suicide in Ithaca the previous year, and outlining its mission to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in the greater Ithaca area.

Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, announced plans to convene a “key stakeholders” with the aim of establishing a suicide prevention coalition in Tompkins County.

At the close of the April 17, 2017 meeting, the assembled stakeholders adopted a solemn resolution. It was dubbed The Watershed Declaration, as the meeting was hosted by The Watershed, a new downtown watering hole owned by Sophie’s friend and former colleague.

The declaration reads:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

How did that pledge turn out? The results are mixed.

Since The Watershed Declaration was adopted, Tompkins County has averaged 12 suicide deaths per year. There is anecdotal evidence of a spike in local suicides, including those on college campuses, in 2021 and 2022. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 10-34.

GET INVOLVED: Interested to join the cause of suicide prevention? Email The Sophie Fund at thesophiefund2016@gmail.com

In June 2017, then Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick issued a proclamation in support of The Watershed Declaration, and the Tompkins County Legislature proclaimed September 2017 to be The Watershed Declaration Month.

Led by Tompkins County Mental Health Services, 40 local mental health leaders came together in July 2017 and launched the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

In October 2017, The Sophie Fund organized an expert briefing at the Statler Hotel for senior healthcare administrators throughout Tompkins County; the topic was the Zero Suicide Model, which is designed to improve suicide prevention measures in healthcare systems.

Eight months later, the Suicide Prevention Coalition adopted Zero Suicide as its policy; eight healthcare providers stepped up to declare themselves “Zero Suicide Champions,” pledging to explore implementation of the model. In July 2018, the county legislature unanimously passed a resolution to support Zero Suicide, calling on local healthcare and behavioral healthcare providers to follow the model’s systematic clinical approach to preventing suicides.

Coalition work toward drafting a strategic plan, creating a leadership team, expanding membership, conducting outreach, and following up on Zero Suicide implementation badly drifted in 2020; this was partly due to leadership transitions throughout the county’s healthcare agencies, as well as disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The coalition resumed monthly meetings in February 2021, elected Sally Manning of Racker as convener, and resumed work on a strategic plan.

In February 2022, then coalition unanimously adopted a three-year strategic plan guided by a vision “for a community where no lives are lost to suicide” and using data, science, and collaborations to implement effective strategies.

The five-point plan calls for using data to inform suicide prevention strategies; advancing the Zero Suicide Model in healthcare; reducing suicide in the youth population; reducing access to lethal means; and advocating for policies and practices to prevent suicide. The coalition has formed work groups to drive efforts in all five areas.

For its part, The Sophie Fund re-launched its Zero Suicide Initiative with a series of presentations and trainings to reinvigorate work on the model in Tompkins County.

On November 16 The Sophie Fund hosted “Call to Action: Suicide Prevention in Healthcare,” an expert briefing for top healthcare leaders by Jenna Heise, director of Suicide Prevention Implementation at the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.

This was followed on March 9 with “Understanding, Identifying, and Addressing Suicide Risk: A Clinical Primer for Behavioral Health Providers,” a training with national suicide prevention leaders hosted by The Wellness Institute.

The Sophie Fund on March 24 hosted “Implementation of Zero Suicide,” a suicide prevention presentation for front line managers representing 10 leading healthcare providers in Tompkins County; it was led by Tammy Weppelman, the State Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and Mike Olson, the crisis program manager at My Health My Resources, an agency currently implementing the model in in Tarrant County, Texas.

On June 16, Virna Little, CEO of Concert Health and a leading expert on integrating primary care and behavioral health, will provide a briefing for primary care physicians and their teams on implementing Zero Suicide protocols in primary care practices.

Finally, in June Jenna Heise of the Suicide Prevention Center of New York will return to Ithaca for a roundtable discussion with top healthcare leaders on Zero Suicide implementation progress.

Meet Ithaca’s Mr. Kindness

To paraphrase his wife Jacque, Darrell Harrington is Ithaca’s Mr. Kindness. He is certainly a man with a big heart—actually, hundreds of them. Harrington is the one who came up with Be Kind Ithaca, whose bright red “Be Kind” hearts adorn lawns and porches throughout Tompkins County and beyond.

Darrell Harrington featured in a Spectrum News 1 segment in 2021

“Spreading kindness and paying it forward,” as Harrington puts it, is Be Kind Ithaca’s mission.

It started with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the related lockdowns in March 2020. Harrington became concerned about the spike in anxiety that he was witnessing in the world around him. Jacque, a nursing student he describes as “just solid,” blew through two red lights in Ithaca one day. “There was this fear, this panic,” Harrington recalled. “The whole world was scared. Our age hasn’t been through something like this.”

Harrington, 48, a lifelong musician who is originally from Groton, has a long history with anxiety disorder. He still lives with some of the trauma he developed from being bullied as a kid with “buck teeth” and “coke-bottle eyeglasses.” After seeing a lot of stressed folks arguing on social media, Harrington did something he never imagined he could do.

He decided to publish a post about his personal experience with anxiety, and invited people to reach out to him if they wanted to talk about their own anxiety with someone. He says he was shocked to discover all the positive responses, including from people he had been afraid would “judge” him.

Harrington wanted to do more. Having recently started a small construction business, he knows his way around a tool shed. Drawing from his mother’s enjoyment of crafting, he used some scrap wood to create a red heart standing six feet high and four feet wide painted with the words “Be Kind.” Just before Easter that year, he trimmed the giant heart with colorful lights and planted it on the edge of his property along a busy road on Ithaca’s South Hill. “I’m just gonna put that there, if it can help someone decompress their stress, their anger, or just make them smile,” Harrington recalled.

Maria Salino, the owner of the nearby Dolce Delight bakery, saw Harrington’s heart and asked he if would make her one, too. Then at her request, Harrington went back to his basement work shop to saw, sand, drill, and paint away and produce 10 more hearts for her friends. He made a few extras and offered them to his own friends on social media, who scooped them up. Harrington reckons that he gave away the first few hundred hearts, but then with lumber prices rising he reluctantly started charging for them basically at cost so he wouldn’t go in the hole financially.

The orders kept coming in. With an extra hand in the work shop from his brother Dale, Harrington began offering two sizes, two by two feet and a miniature, for $27 and $14, respectively. The hearts are in plain site outside countless homes locally, but he has now shipped the Be Kind placards to nearly every state (and documented on Be Kind Ithaca’s Facebook page). Besides the hearts he constructs by hand, Harrington has created a line of Be Kind merch with everything from key chains and employee badge clips to t-shirts and fridge and car bumper magnets.

Nor has Harrington stopped at symbolic expressions of kindness. Inspired by Ronald McDonald House Charities, Be Kind Ithaca has begun donating a portion of its proceeds to the community. It has raised funds for T-Burg Takes on Pediatric Cancer, the Mickey Gallagher Memorial Scholarship Fund, the SPCA of Tompkins County, and The Lost Dogs of the Finger Lakes. Harrington has also sent donations to help victims of severe weather incidents in Texas and Kentucky.

(Full disclosure: Be Kind Ithaca recently made a donation to The Sophie Fund from its sales of Christmas ornaments, hand crafted by Harrington’s retired parents.)

Be Kind’s mission also involves undertaking random acts of kindness. For example, after hearing that many people had succumbed to Covid-19 at an Ithaca area nursing home, Harrington sprung into action by delivering gift bags to all its custodial workers to thank them for their selfless service. Partly supported by a donor, the bags were stuffed with Be Kind key chains, Dolce Delight gift cards, and New York lottery tickets.

Sometimes when Harrington encounters a total stranger who looks overwhelmed, he’ll pull out and present them with a Be Kind sticker. “You just see them smile,” he said.

To some, Harrington may seem like an unlikely ambassador of kindness. They would be wrong. For 30 years—since becoming a teenage fan of Guns N’ Roses—he has played bass guitar in heavy metal and rock bands, like Bone Jar and The New York Rock. With dreadlocks and tattoos up and down his left arm, he toured the country and played venues including CBGB in New York and Whiskey a Go Go in LA. Back home, he augmented his income bartending, and managed The Haunt, Ithaca’s largest band venue.

Through his rough and tumble music career and his mental health struggles, Harrington maintained a belief in the goodness of his fellow men and women. “For every bad person you hear about, there’re nine other amazing and kind people,” he said.

Darrell Harrington himself is one of those amazing and kind people.

NOTE: Follow Be Kind Ithaca on Facebook and Instagram, or email darrelljharrington@gmail.com, to order Be Kind products.