NAMI Finger Lakes: Supporting Mental Health in Our Community

Who do you turn to when you’re struggling to understand a loved one who may be experiencing a mental health condition? Do you feel connected to the resources you need to be a positive support to your family member or friend? Are you making your wellbeing a priority in your pursuit of care for others?

The Finger Lakes chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides free family support, education, and advocacy regarding matters of mental health. Click here to download, print, and share our guide to NAMI-FL’s programs and services.

When families and friends recognize signs that their loved one may be experiencing changes in their mental health, it can be confusing and overwhelming. For 35 years, NAMI-FL has been a trusted resource in our community. Families and friends come to us to learn about their loved one’s experience and to find support for themselves in a compassionate, non-judgmental environment.

One never has to worry that they can’t afford NAMI services, as they are always free.

Please consider supporting NAMI-FL? Click DONATE to make your financial contribution.

Our evidence-based signature classes and support groups are led by trained family peers and developed by NAMI, the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of the millions of Americans living with mental illness.

The history of NAMI is a long tale of courageous families across the nation, from a nationwide signature drive to double mental health funding to building a national organization with over 600 affiliates.

Our local affiliate was founded by Jean Walters in 1986 when families found a warm and compassionate space to share their experiences and find support around the kitchen table. (Listen to the Talk Tompkins podcast with Jean in which she describes how she became a mental health advocate.)

We’re proud of the confidence and trust our community has placed in us to grow and connect more people to the mental health support and resources they need. NAMI-FL is governed by a volunteer board of directors; through the tireless efforts of many volunteers and the generous support of the Park Foundation, NAMI-FL created the position of executive director in 2020.

Together, the board and executive director work with volunteers to meet the needs of families in our community. We increase our impact through connections with other organizations with the shared goal of improving the lives of our loved ones and everyone experiencing changes in their mental health.

NAMI-FL has a rich history of advocacy in our community and in New York State. We keep our local policymakers informed about the mental health needs and challenges in our communities and encourage initiatives such as the implementation of our Ithaca Wellness and Recovery Court and Crisis Intervention Training for local law enforcement. We stay informed about changes in local services and keep families up to date.

We collaborate with NAMI New York State to meet and inform our state representatives about the issues that are important to us. We’re actively working to improve the lives of families impacted by mental illness and empowering our community to advocate for a stronger system of care. Click here to see NAMI NYS’s 2021 Legislative Agenda and learn simple ways you can use your story to make an impact.

We often hear that NAMI-FL is the area’s best kept secret. With your help, we can spread the word, amplify our collective voice, and work together to build a strong system of mental health care. Together, we can make sure families are knowledgeable about their loved one’s experience and never feel alone in their own.

Click here for a review of NAMI-FL’s 2021 activities and to learn how you can volunteer or support our work in the community and across the state.

At NAMI-FL, you are never alone. To save lives, to change lives, we must come together for mental health. We look forward to connecting with you in 2022!

—By Beth McGee

Beth McGee is the executive director of NAMI Finger Lakes

2022 “Make Kindness Go Viral!” Contest

Attention all students in Tompkins County! Do you take kindness for granted? What does kindness mean to you? What does kindness look like?

Help make the world a better place—and go for a prize—by entering the “Make Kindness Go Viral!” contest in January! You can create original artwork, or you can write a short essay, that expresses your own ideas or experiences regarding kindness.

According to the competition guidelines, participants in the artwork competition are invited to submit an original poster or social media graphic, created in any art medium, illustrating kindness.

For the essay competition, participants must submit an original essay of 500 words or less about their “next act of kindness.”

The contest is open to all students. Awards will be presented in separate elementary school, middle school, and high school categories.

The deadline for submissions is January 17, and the awards will be announced at the virtual 2022 United in Kindness Symposium on January 27.

Go to The Sophie Fund to download the Registration Form today!

The contest is sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

Tompkins Symposium on Cyberbullying Coming January 27

The Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force announced December 20 that it will sponsor “What to Do About Cyberbullying,” a day-long symposium via Zoom on January 27, 2022.

The task force’s 2022 United in Kindness event will feature presentations by Sameer Hinduja, author and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, and Amanda Verba, chief operations officer for the Ithaca City School District, and other local experts on child development.

The symposium will also include “Tompkins Youth Speak Out,” a breakout session from 7-8 p.m. with students from area schools discussing how they handle cyberbullying. The session will be moderated by Melanie Little, director of Education and Youth Services at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County.

All sessions are open to parents, students, school administrators, teachers, counselors, social workers, athletic coaches, and resource officers; and staff at after-school programs and independent youth organizations. Registration to attend any of the sessions is available at: https://bit.ly/3y2DjRu. More information about the symposium is available at: https://thesophiefund.org/bullying/.

“While cyberbullying has been a topic of concern for several years, the shift to online learning and further social isolation of our county’s young people as a result of the pandemic has only further highlighted the need for a robust response to issues of online bullying and harassment,” said Bridgette Nugent, deputy director of the Tompkins County Youth Services Department and co-coordinator of the Task Force.

Added Task Force member Celia Clement, a social worker for 32 years in the Ithaca City School District with a focus on developing student-led programs to create kind, inclusive, and safe school communities K-12:

“Youth only tell their parents that they are having social problems online around 10 percent of the time. We need to give students tools to address cyberbullying, how to handle it, how to be helpful bystanders when they witness other youth being bullied, and when to seek help from adults. There are many potential adverse mental health and social consequences, both short term and long term, for the victims, the perpetrators, and the onlookers.”

The task force also announced the launch of “Make Kindness Go Viral!,” a contest for Tompkins County K-12 students to express kindness in artwork or writing. Contest registration forms are available at https://thesophiefund.org/bullying/.  Deadline for submissions is January 17. Awards will be announced during the United in Kindness Symposium.

“The contest invites submissions from all Tompkins County youth to underscore the importance of building and nurturing a community of kindness where bullying is not tolerated,” Nugent said.

The Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force was formed in 2019 by stakeholders from government agencies, community organizations, and schools to explore the prevalence of youth bullying and strategies to combat it.

Kids Getting Bullied: What Adults Can Do

Bullying can have serious immediate and lasting harmful impacts on children, yet 64 percent of those who are bullied do not report the experience to an adult, according to Bailey Huston, coordinator of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Huston spoke at “Kindness, Acceptance, and Inclusion in the Age of Covid-19,” a webinar hosted by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force on October 27 in a program marking National Bullying Prevention Month.

DOWNLOAD: Resources from PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center

Huston reviewed the four main types of youth bullying: verbal bullying, using words to tease or harass; emotional bullying, such as manipulation, gossip, or exclusion; physical bullying, such as kicking, hitting, damaging or stealing property, or unwanted touching; and cyberbullying, using technology such as social media to hurt or harm.

“We all know that conflict is a normal part of a kids life, and it can be hard to figure out if it is bullying or just conflict,” Huston said. Yet, she added, it is crucial to understand the distinction. She explained that conflict is between individuals of equal circumstance who are not seeking to cause harm, whereas bullying involves a power imbalance where a perpetrator is not concerned about causing harm and may actually be motivated by a desire to control.

“Some common views about bullying are that ‘It’s part of growing up,’ ‘It makes you tough,’ ‘Kids will be kids,’ ‘It’s only only teasing,’” said Huston. “But bullying should not be part of growing up.” In fact, she argued, bullying can negatively impact a child’s education, health, and safety.

Students who are bullied may avoid going to school, which can cause a decline in academic performance and even dropping out, Huston said. Bullying can lead to stomach aches, headaches, and sleep problems, and emotional problems like depression and anxiety, she said. Finally, bullying behavior can result in physical harm to bullies and their targets, she said.

It is important to emphasize, Huston said, that bullying is a behavior, and behavior can be changed. The focus on addressing bullying should be on the behavior, and not the person, she said.

“We avoid using words like the ‘bully’ or the ‘victim,’” she explained. “Behavior like bullying can be changed. It is not a permanent part of who they are. This behavior does not have to define them. When you pull back those layers, we can see there are number of ways we can redirect the behavior in positive ways.”

Bailey advised parents to talk to children about bullying, and support and empower them if they are bullied. She encouraged parents to start a conversation with their children at a young age, and to provide constructive backup if and when they experience bullying. She said it is important for children to know that being bullied is not their fault and not their responsibility alone to stop the bullying. Huston said students should be encouraged to report bullying to a teacher or trusted adult, and advised against encouraging them either to stand up to the person bullying them or to just ignore the bullying.

Huston noted that PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center provides a wealth of educational as well as support materials on its website.

To address a serious bullying problem, Huston suggested developing actions plans. She said a “Student Action Plan” can reflect on the issue and develop steps to change the situation. A “Parent Action Plan” should keep a record of incidents which should include any written information, the date of the event or events and person or persons involved, and their child’s own account of what happened, she said.

Additionally, Huston said, parents should decide on the best approach for taking action—for example, whether to approach school staff, health professionals, law enforcement, or other community members about the problem. She said parents should learn their legal rights in the situation, and know the procedures for reporting a problem. Many schools have specific procedures for reporting incidents, but Huston noted that Pacer’s website provides a template letter that parents can use as well. (Click here to download).

For more resources, click here for The Sophie Fund’s bullying prevention page.

Support The Learning Web of Ithaca!

Welcome to The Sophie Fund’s 2021 Cupcake Button fundraiser! Each October, we work alongside student organizations to raise monies for a local nonprofit focused on community wellbeing.

Members of The Learning Web’s Volunteer Community Service Program help the Family Reading Partnership prepare books to be given to local kids

This year the campaign is collecting funds for The Learning Web, an Ithaca agency offering experiential learning, youth employment, and independent living programs to youth and young adults in Tompkins County. 

One hundred percent of monies raised will go to The Learning Web and specifically to its Supporting Strong Families project. The project helps youth with children learn new skills, acquire childcare equipment and supplies, and access needed resources.   

Click here to DONATE via GoFundMe

The Learning Web strives to support local youth—from the homeless to the more fortunate—to make the transition to adulthood successfully, finish high school, develop a productive career path leading to gainful employment and self-sufficiency, and contribute in a healthy and positive way to better the greater Ithaca community.

Every year The Learning Web helps 600 youth, 200 of whom are homeless, through a variety of programs. Services are provided to ensure safe housing, assist education and training opportunities, develop career pathways through apprenticeships and employment, and help with parenting skills for young parents.

For more information about The Learning Web, go to: https://www.learning-web.org/

This year’s fundraising campaign is supported by many student organizations, including Cornell University’s Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter, Reflect at Cornell, Phi Sigma Pi, Pre-Professional Association Toward Careers in Health (PATCH), and Cornell Circle K; and Ithaca College’s IC Strike.

Students will raise money through in-person activities (and provide donors with Cupcake Buttons) and through online collections via GoFundMe.

The symbol of the campaign is a Cupcake Button, because the fundraising takes place in the run-up to the Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest hosted by The Sophie Fund. To enter this year’s cupcake contest, go to: https://thesophiefund.org/cupcake-contest/

2021 Cupcake Button (detail from Evolution, a painting by Sophie Hack MacLeod)

For more information about The Sophie Fund, go to: www.thesophiefund.org