It Takes a Village

Seventeen-year-old Autum tended to describe herself as introverted, closed off, and with a lot to say but not always the opportunity to say it. She often found herself struggling to find her voice and to interact with people.

The Village at Ithaca changed Autum’s outlook completely. Today, a sociable proactive high school senior, Autum goes through her days speaking up for what she knows is wrong and what needs to change. She is outgoing and collaborates with peers and adults alike. As a summer youth employee, Autum became a founding member of the Village’s Girls of Color female empowerment group.  She is the student coordinator of the Stolen Joy Project, a social media initiative that shares stories of racism and oppression experienced in public school by students of color. 

“Through the Village at Ithaca, I have found a safe space for me to be my true, authentic self,” said Autum, explaining how she had the opportunity to meet peers who have felt misplaced and share stories strengthening their bond.

Founded in 2002, the Village at Ithaca is a non-profit organization that advocates for education equity for black, brown, low income, and other underrepresented and underserved populations. Designed to meet family needs, the Village provides wraparound support services such as academic tutoring, family advocacy, and emergency food and financial support.  The Village is committed to actively listening to families and designing programming based on community needs.  “We as an organization, as a community can always do more and do better for our children and families,” said Executive Director Meryl Phipps.

The Village’s Student Success Center is one of the many programs that focuses on improving students’ understanding of their course material to create a solid foundation. Each student is paired with an Achievement Coach who works one-on-one with them to first “affirm, inspire, encourage, instruct.”  In this current climate of pandemic schooling, the Student Success Center has evolved to include virtual tutoring as well as daily in-person academic support during the school day for middle and high school students struggling to navigate remote learning.

Another important Village service is the Family Advocacy Program, which helps both students and families ensure they have all the resources provided to them to excel in school and their home life. Family Advocates attend school meetings to support caregivers and students in making their voices heard. They also join caregivers of students with disabilities at Committee on Special Education meetings, and advocate for students in disciplinary proceedings. 

The Village is open to students of all ages. The organization has supported some young people from elementary school all the way through college. “We take our name very seriously,” said Phipps. “Once you reach out and want to be a part of our village, we will follow you all the way.”

The Village operates with Phipps as the only full-time employee and three part-time employees. Phipps finds herself with her hands full, writing grant proposals one day and tutoring biology the next. She is a 2009 graduate of Cornell Law School, and practiced family law in Ithaca before joining the Village. “I was frustrated by the challenges of working with kids in an oppressive system that wasn’t serving the needs of vulnerable people,” said Phipps. “I’ve always been more interested in policy work and in thinking outside of the box to create solutions to historically rooted problems—this all has been liberating.”

—By Anna Moura

Anna Moura, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a Class of 2021 Writing major and Psychology minor at Ithaca College.

[The Village is the recipient of $1,018.00 in donations collected in The Sophie Fund’s 2020 Cupcake Button Fundraising Campaign, which is held annually to aid local nonprofits supporting mental health and wellness. The Sophie Fund thanks the following student organizations for participating in the campaign: At Cornell University, Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter, Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health), and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (BOSS); Active Minds at Ithaca College; and Active Minds at Ithaca High School. To learn more about the Village at Ithaca, or to become involved in its work, visit the Village on social media, at http://www.villageatithaca.org, or e-mail contact@villageatithaca.org.]

Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2020

Zoë Dubrow won 1st Place with her Summer Garden Cupcakes in the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund. Inspired by the vibrant flowers in her own backyard garden, Dubrow’s cupcakes consisted of a chocolate and pistachio cake formed to resemble a terracotta pot topped with icing made from raspberry panna cotta, raspberry mousse, and pistachios.

Zoë Dubrow (with roommate) and her prize-winning cupcakes

“They have a lot of components and were a bit challenging to make,” said Dubrow, who won the Grand Prize for the third consecutive year. “But, like growing a garden, baking them was a good reminder that dedicating time and focus to something you love can be very rewarding and, in this case, delicious!”

Zoë Dubrow’s Summer Garden Cupcakes

Rachel Allison won 2nd Place with her Fall Foliage Cupcakes designed to highlight the brilliant colors of autumn and golden afternoon light. The matcha and ginger cupcakes were decorated with a walnut praline spread garnished with gold-dusted chocolate leaves, gold leaf, and gold dragées. “This cupcake is a fusion of the all the best parts of fall,” said Allison. “The flavor is inspired by my favorite cool-weather drink, a matcha latte, blending earthy matcha with creamy ganache and buttercream.”

Rachel Allison’s Fall Foliage Cupcakes

Candice Mahadeo took 3rd Place with her Pistachio and Chocolate Cupcakes, using a personal recipe that was 10 years in the making. “I always had friends and family joyfully agree to be my testers all along the way,” said Mahadeo. “These cupcakes can be the crowning glory of your party contributions, as they were mine. They are the perfect decadent comfort food to satisfy your sweet tooth.”

Grace Mahadeo’s Pistachio Chocolate Cupcakes

Elanor Harris with her Cauldron Cupcakes, inspired by the year-round Halloween decorations adorning her home, won the prize for Best Video. “The story of my cupcakes is, unfortunately, not a spooky fairy tale,” Harris said. “It is merely the story of a girl who loves both Halloween and baking and wanted to honor those two loves with the cupcakes she created.”

Elanor Harris’s Cauldron Cupcakes

Tabitha Gray won the Youth Award for cupcakes inspired by an unlikely source: Twister, her pet rooster. Gray’s lemon pop cakes with lemon frosting were decorated with a rooster head and feathers made of fondant and food coloring. “A couple weeks ago, I heard a bird scream and saw all the birds were there except my rooster,” said Gray. “I went into the woods and saw a fox run away. Then I saw Twister. We didn’t think he’d make it through the night but now he’s walking again. He’s still slowly getting better.”

Tabitha Gray’s Rooster Cupcakes

The Best Story Award went to Ivy Stevens-Gupta, who submitted Hidden Treasure Cupcakes in memory of her daughter, Cach’e Dallas Pelletier. The tropical-themed and rum-flavored vegan cupcakes contained a treasure inside consisting of Pop Rocks representing precious jewels. According to Stevens-Gupta, Cach’e died by suicide five years ago at age 29, having suffered from anxiety and an opioid addiction due to pain caused from a car accident.

Ivy Stevens-Gupta with cupcakes and Cach’e

“My goal in creating these cupcakes was two-fold: to honor the memory of my daughter, and to bring about awareness of the need for better mental healthcare, drug addiction, and suicide prevention programs,” said Stevens-Gupta. “May we all be kind to one another and to animals.”

Ivy Stevens-Gupta’s Hidden Treasure Cupcakes

This year’s contest, moved entirely online due to Covid-19 coronavirus social distancing guidelines, produced cupcakes with diverse themes including fall foliage, Halloween, backyard gardens, farm animals, TV heroes, family memories, mental health, and a certain black cat named Bagel.

The winners were announced at a Facebook Live Event on Saturday hosted by The Mighty Mickie Quinn and Kitschy Scofflaw. The event celebrated the 44 contestants who baked cupcakes and then shared photos, stories, and even some videos of their delicious creations.

The Mighty Mickie Quinn and Kitschy Scofflaw

“I am unbelievably impressed by this year’s entries,” said Quinn. “Having the contest in this format allowed us to learn more about the contestant and the love they put into their creation. And, we’re all here for the love! Thanks to all for coming together to celebrate our bakers and support The Sophie Fund.”

Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s great culinary community:

Yuko Jingu of Akemi Food

Ashley Case of Case Sera Sera

Racquel Riccardi of the Sinfully Delicious Baking Co

Melissa Kenny of Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop

Judging the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest

The 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest was sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

The contest was supported by the Active Minds chapters at Ithaca College and Ithaca High School, and with several student organizations from Cornell University: Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega, Phi Sigma Pi, PATCH, and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people.

Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the first Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.

Top Winners (receiving Downtown Ithaca Alliance gift cards accepted by more than 100 local shops and restaurants):

1st Place & Grand Prize ($250): Zoë Dubrow

2nd Place ($100): Rachel Allison

3rd Place ($50): Candice Mahadeo

Best Video Award ($250): Elanor Harris

Best Youth Award ($100): Tabitha Gray

Best Story Award ($100): Ivy Steven-Gupta

(The list of Honorable Mentions and Special Award recipients will be posted soon!)

Cupcakes 2020: Let’s Pick the Winners!

Thanks to the more than 40 contestants who entered the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest (Virtual Edition)! Now the judging begins! Throughout the week, The Sophie Fund will publish posts here and on social media spotlighting all the cupcake masterpieces. On Saturday October 24, the judges will announce the winners in a Facebook Live Event. Stay tuned!

Contest Producer Mickie Quinn displaying 2019 entries

The Sophie Fund extends its deep thanks to the contest’s sponsors this year, GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

Our gratitude also goes to the student organizations supporting the contest: Active Minds at Ithaca College, Active Minds at Ithaca High School, and at Cornell University, Cornell Minds Matter; Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter; Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity; PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health); and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (BOSS).

Meanwhile, enjoy a slideshow of past Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contests held in the Ithaca Commons—hopefully we’ll be back at the Bernie Milton Pavilion again next October!

Blueberry Bourbon Cupcakes

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Cupcakes, and more cupcakes

The Judges

Have a cupcake?

Kitschy Scofflaw and GreenStar’s Debbie Lazinsky

The Alternatives crew

Alpha Phi Omega

Cornell Minds Matter

CMM’s Chelsea Kiely delivers a mental health message

Lyn Staack of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County

Advocacy Center’s Lara Hamburger speaks on domestic violence and sexual assault

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service

Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force

Nellia Mattson

Joe Gibson

SingTrece and Kenneth McLaurin

Josh Dolan

Hannah Martin

Ginny Maddock

Friend of The Sophie Fund

2019 Grand Prize Winner Zoë Dubrow

It’s the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest (VIRTUAL EDITION!)

If it’s October, then it’s time for the Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest. The 2020 event will be held entirely online, instead of at the Ithaca Commons, due to Covid-19 social distancing needs. We’re excited about the new possibilities!

As usual, contestants of all ages are invited and will be eligible for dozens of prizes including a Grand Prize valued at $250. (Open to amateur bakers only.)

To enter, you will still bake and decorate cupcakes, of course. We can already smell the sweet aromas coming from your ovens!

But instead of bringing them down to the Bernie Milton Pavilion for judging, you’ll take photos of your masterpieces and email them to The Sophie Fund.

We’re also asking you to tell us a brief story about your cupcakes—maybe about what inspired your recipe and decoration. Or what special techniques you used. Or challenges you had to overcome to make your cupcake concept a reality.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59 pm Saturday October 17.

Entries will then be judged by professionals from Ithaca’s bakeries and restaurants. Judging is based on decoration, originality, and story about the cupcake.

Judges will announce finalists and choose winners during an Online Live Event on Saturday October 24. The Sophie Fund will notify the winners and mail prizes to them. The names of winners will also be announced on www.thesophiefund.org.

Additional Prizes:

Teens and Pre-Teens: A $100 gift certificate redeemable at dozens of downtown Ithaca shops will be presented with this year’s Special Youth Award!

Movie Makers: All contestants must submit photos and a story, but you can also make a short movie about your cupcakes for a separate $100 Video Prize!

The 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people.

Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the first Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.

Click here for all the information on contest procedures and rules, and to download a registration form.

Congratulations, High School Class of 2020

In case you missed it, check out the wonderful high school graduation celebration broadcast on most channels Saturday evening May 16.

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The event was organized by The LeBron James Family Foundation and partners, and featured a message from LeBron James and a commencement address by former President Barack Obama.

The 1-hour celebration opened with a moving Star-Spangled Banner sung by an online chorus of graduating seniors.

The event also included appearances by Megan Rapinoe, Yara Shahidi, Olivia Wilde, Pharrell Williams, Malala Yousafzai, Zendaya, Bad Bunny, Timothée Chalamet, David Dobrik, Kevin Hart, H.E.R., Chris Harrison, Jonas Brothers featuring Karol G, Alicia Keys, Liza Koshy, Julianne Moore, Maren Morris, Kumail Nanjiani, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ben Platt.