Friend of MHA Award for The Sophie Fund

The Sophie Fund has received the 2023 Friend of the Mental Health Association Award from the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS). The honor was presented to Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, at the organization’s Annual Awards Dinner in Albany on October 23.

Josephine Gibson, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County (MHATC), nominated The Sophie Fund for the award for its “unwavering commitment to our community’s mental health and supporting the mission of the Mental Health Association.”

She described The Sophie Fund as an “ally” and “fast friend” which “has made a major impact on our reach and ability to provide quality mental health education and support services to community members.”

Gibson said that The Sophie Fund enabled her organization to host book talks with authors who write about mental health, provide free Mental Health First Aid trainings to workers in the hospitality industry and staff and students at Tompkins Cortland Community College, hire a paid intern to engage in advocacy work at Cornell University, and educate the community at large.

Just recently, she added, The Sophie Fund collaborated with the Mental Health Association to organize a youth art show to culminate National Bullying Prevention Month.

Gibson also cited The Sophie Fund’s leadership in various community initiatives, such as the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force. She said The Sophie Fund worked with her organization to help ensure that the voices of its peer specialists were included in such initiatives.

The Sophie Fund was established as a community advocacy organization by MacLeod and his wife Susan Hack in memory of their daughter Sophie, a Cornell University student who died by suicide in Ithaca in 2016. The organization supports mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca area.

Accepting the award, MacLeod said that The Sophie Fund was humbled by the recognition but focused credit on service organizations like the Mental Health Association for providing face to face, day to day support to those in need.

Scott MacLeod, speaking at the MHANYS Annual Awards Dinner

“We thank Josephine Gibson and her incredibly devoted and experienced team at the Mental Health Association for nominating The Sophie Fund ,” MacLeod said. “We thank them for the essential work they do to support mental health in our community. We feel extremely privileged and honored for the opportunity to work together in this mission.”

The MHANYS awards dinner was hosted by Executive Director Glenn Liebman and attended by more than 100 people, including New York State Mental Health Commissioner Ann Marie Sullivan and Patricia Fahy, chair of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education.

Ann Marie Sullivan and Glenn Liebman

Patricia Fahy, speaking at the MHANYS Annual Awards Dinner

MHANYS, an affiliate of Mental Health America, was incorporated in 1960 and has 26 affiliates in 50 counties throughout New York State. Its mission is to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities by raising mental health awareness, ending stigma and discrimination, and promoting wellness and recovery.

Note from MHANYS about the bell that adorns its awards:

During the early days of mental health treatment, asylums often restrained persons with mental illnesses with iron chains and shackles around their ankles and wrists. Clifford Beers, the founder of the Mental Health Association movement, experienced and witnessed many of these and other abuses. After his own recovery, he became a leading figure in the movement to reform the treatment of, and attitudes toward, mental illness. With better understanding and treatments, cruel practices eventually stopped.

In the early 1950s, in the lobby of the national headquarters in New York City, the Mental Health Association collected discarded chains and shackles from asylums across the country. All of these restraints were then shipped to the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore where they were dropped into a crucible and cast into a 300 pound bell with the inscription “Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.”

Photo credits: MHANYS

Joining New York State’s Suicide Prevention Council

The Sophie Fund is honored to become a new member in 2023 of the New York State Suicide Prevention Council.

Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, and Jay Carruthers, director of the Suicide Prevention Center of New York

The council was established in 2016 to assist the New York State Office of Mental Health “to raise awareness, reduce suicide attempts and deaths, and promote wellness among New Yorkers.” The council formed four work groups to address specific areas, including the Zero Suicide Model in health and behavioral health care, communities and coalitions, school and youth initiatives, and data and surveillance. The Sophie Fund serves on the Zero Suicide work group.

Council membership includes experts (researchers, clinicians, and state and community agencies), individuals and family members with lived experience (attempt and loss survivors), and advocacy groups and organizations.

The recent fall meeting, in Albany on November 9, featured report-outs from the work groups. Jay Carruthers, director of OMH’s Suicide Prevention Center, announced the award of a major new federal grant to the center for advancing the Zero Suicide Model across New York State. The $3.5 million grant, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), runs through 2028. Zero Suicide is a set of strategies and tools for suicide prevention in healthcare and behavioral health systems.

New York State Suicide Prevention Council meeting November 9, 2023

The SAMHSA grant will support the Zero Suicide framework to improve suicide care and behavioral health services generally in Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC). Currently there are 13 CCBHCs in New York State, and 26 additional clinics will open by 2025.

The vision of the grant is to reduce suicide attempts and deaths among adults ages 18 and older and establish CCBHCs as the “backbone” of New York’s Zero Suicide infrastructure using a “center of excellence” model.

Carruthers also announced a $2 million, 5-year SAMHSA grant to address the “youth mental health crisis.” The goal is to expand access to mental health services for youth aged 10-21 years by increasing the number of pediatric/family practices offering the Collaborative Care Model (CoCM).

The model integrates behavioral health professionals into general medical practices to improve patient outcomes and reduce stigma related to mental health. It also increases the confidence and competence of physical health providers in treating mental health disorders.

The grant will support CoCM implementation in high needs practices that would otherwise lack resources, and provide CoCM to complex youth patients with co-existing chronic disease, trauma history, suicidal ideation or substance use disorders.

Saluting Mental Health Heroes

Mental health leaders in Tompkins County highlighted available community services and underlined the importance of supporting the well-being of mental health workers during the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest.

The organizations participating included: Be Kind Ithaca; Free Hugs Ithaca; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes; Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca; Health and Unity for Greg; and Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, and Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

Kayla and Michelle Eells of Health and Unity for Greg

Alecia Sundsmo, director of Clinical Services at Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, said that her agency provides mental health care across the age spectrum regardless of ability to pay.

“One of the amazing things about Family and Children’s is that we can really provide mental health care from our zero-to-five program all the way up to our geriatric mental health program,” she said. “Somebody is never turned away. We know that equity across access to healthcare is so critical to making sure that people have the care that they need in the community where they live and work.”

Sundsmo also noted the agency’s outreach programs “to make sure that we reach folks who might have some additional stigma or barriers to seeking access to care. We go out and help them and find them and make sure that we can provide social supports in the community.” She said that the outreach includes community education programs and extends to supporting mental health in local businesses through their Employee Assistance Programs.

Michelle Eells of Health & United for Greg thanked Family & Children’s for establishing the Greg Eells Memorial Fund in honor of her husband, who died by suicide in 2019. Greg Eells was a veteran psychologist and active member of the Family & Children’s board.

“The fund helps provide wellness support and education to the Family and Children’s Service clinicians and staff,” Eells explained. “As mental health providers and caregivers who care vehemently for others and take it all in, they also need to be supported and make a priority to care for themselves.”

The Greg Eells Memorial Fund is the recipient of the 2023 Cupcake Button fundraising campaign organized by The Sophie Fund, which collects donations every year to support a local mental health nonprofit.

Lovisa Johanson of Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

Samantha Shoemaker of Free Hugs Ithaca and Darrell Harrington of Be Kind Ithaca

Olivia Duell of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County

Brandi Remington of the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force

Skip Knoll and Virginia Cook of The Sophie Fund

Stacy Ayres and Crystal Howser of AFSP Greater Central New York

Kathy Taylor and Sandra Sorensen of NAMI Finger Lakes

Support Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca!

It’s time for The Sophie Fund’s 2023 Cupcake Button fundraiser! Each October, we work alongside student organizations to raise monies for a local nonprofit focused on community well-being.

This year’s campaign is collecting donations for the Greg Eells Memorial Fund at Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca. The fund provides wellness support and continuing education opportunities for the organization’s own staff members.

Greg Eells

Family & Children’s is a private, nonprofit community agency dedicated to supporting, promoting, and strengthening the well-being of individuals and families by providing high-quality, accessible mental health care and related social services, with a particular sensitivity toward the needs of children.

In 2022, the agency provided 1,289 clients with counseling services in nearly 30,000 appointments. More than 1,000 other clients were served in other programs such as psychiatry, geriatric mental health, and community outreach.

The Memorial Fund was created to honor Eells, the longtime executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Cornell University, board member at Family & Children’s, and national leader in the student mental health field, who died by suicide in 2019.

The fund was inspired by Eells’s widow, Michelle Eells, who seeks to provide greater support for clinicians and others who spend long hours treating clients with mental health issues including many who are struggling.

Donor Engagement Manager Lovisa Johanson said that the fund has provided wellness opportunities such as meditation workshops, on site massages, and movement sessions as well as social activities for employee appreciation, community building, and resiliency enhancement.

“I am so happy there is opportunity for the community to learn a little more about what the Greg Eells Memorial Fund does for us,” she said.

To donate directly to the Greg Eells Memorial Fund, click here and use the drop-down menu to designate your gift.

Michelle along with their daughter Kayla and several friends also founded Health & Unity for Greg (HUG) “to continue Greg’s work in the world, inspired by Greg’s passion for people and overall wellness in mind, body, and spirit.”

HUG focuses on uniting community through advocacy events that exercise physical and mental health to end the stigma for all. “HUG especially recognizes the work of those serving in the mental health profession and aims to increase wellness support,” she said.

Michelle said that to honor her husband, there are two important aspects of his life and career HUG wants to remember and advance.

“HUG recognizes mental health providers and caregivers who, like my husband, care abundantly for others and need to be supported in caring for themselves,” she explained.

“And we want to continue the work that Greg was doing with Nature Rx, encouraging people to get outside and explore the natural world as one method to improve their mental health,” she added.

With Donald A. Rakow, Eells co-authored Nature Rx: Improving College-Student Mental Health, which described the value of nature prescription programs and cited studies showing that people who spend time in nature have reduced stress, anxiety, and improved mood. 

“Greg had a gift for making everyone feel special, like they were the most important person in the world,” said Michelle. “He was known for giving big bear hugs, so in naming the organization HUG, it perfectly captures Greg’s spirit and passions while incorporating his name.”

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

Students raise money through various in-person activities (and provide donors with Cupcake Buttons) on campus and in the community.

Since 2017 the campaigns have raised more than $6,000 for organizations including: the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County; the Village at Ithaca; The Learning Web; and the National Alliance on Mental Illness–Finger Lakes.

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, click here.

For more information about The Sophie Fund, go to:

Enter the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest!

Ithaca bakers, what’s your flavor this year? Tiramisu? Green tea? Earl Grey? Honey maple? Pumpkin spice? Vanilla bean? Surprise us! The judges are waiting for your cupcakes!

The 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest will take place on Saturday October 14 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons.

Click here for all the information on contest procedures and rules, and the Contest Registration Form. (You can register online, or download a Contest Registration Form and bring it to the contest venue with your cupcakes).

Contestants of all ages are welcome and will be eligible for dozens of prizes including a Grand Prize valued at $250 and a Youth Award valued at $100. Truly, everyone is a winner! (Open to amateur bakers only.)

Contestants are asked to submit trays of six cupcakes, their recipes, and a brief story about their creations.

The story could be about a person, place, or thing that inspired the recipe and decoration. Or what techniques you favored. Or the joy you had baking them. Was there a challenge you had to overcome in making your cupcake dream a reality? Tell us!

Contest submissions are received from 10 a.m.–12 Noon on Saturday October 14 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion. The entries will then be judged by professionals from Ithaca’s bakeries and restaurants. Judging is based on cupcake taste, decoration, and originality. Winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony at 3 p.m.

Prizes include 1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place, and Honorable Mention Awards, as well as the Youth Award for teens and pre-teens.

The 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by Visions Federal Credit Union, Cayuga Health, and Maguire.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, 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.