Alternatives and Us

The Sophie Fund is proud to announce that Alternatives Federal Credit Union is a sponsor of the 2nd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest held this Saturday October 14.

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Besides helping underwrite the costs of the contest with a financial donation, the fantastic Alternatives team has been working with us behind the scenes to make the event even better than last year. Among the additional features: a coloring contest for the kids (up to age 8). Participants won’t be disappointed!

We’re glad to share in the uniqueness that Alternatives brings to Ithaca. Cornell University (’73) social psychology grad Bill Myers founded Alternatives in 1979 with a mission of serving low and moderate-income people and communities. It prides itself in providing access to safe financial services and education for underserved people.

As a Community Development Credit Union, Alternatives is member-owned, locally controlled, and self-supporting. According to its statement of purpose:

“We believe that by controlling the flow of funds within a small community, the community can build itself to suit its own needs and be more self-reliant. Our social mission is integrated into our economic mission, so for whatever reason, joining Alternatives is making a choice towards a more economically just community.”

Alternatives has been recognized for its social mission and standard of excellence. In 2014, the National Credit Union Association ranked Alternatives as the No. 1 Community Development Financial Institution in the United States.

In 2011, the Wells Fargo Next Awards presented Alternatives with its Advocacy Award for its policy and advocacy leadership on a living wage that began as a local effort and grew into a national movement.

The Sophie Fund is honored to work with Alternatives in our efforts to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in our community.

Cornell Fraternity Serves the Ithaca Community

“Service” is a word bursting with meaning for the Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter Service Team, as we have learned first-hand here at The Sophie Fund.

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A little more than a year ago, we decided to organize a cupcake baking contest in the Ithaca Commons. Our idea was to raise some money for mental health initiatives, bring some cupcake joy to Ithaca, and fight the stigma around mental health and treatment. Sophie (’14) was an avid baker and loved baking cupcakes from an early age.

An APO brother came across some publicity for the contest and quickly contacted us. She said she would encourage APO Gamma brothers to bake some cupcakes, but she also wanted to know “if there was any way our brothers could help out.”

Our answer was “Yes!” The truth was that we had thrown the contest together at the last minute, and we desperately needed help with logistics on event day. APO Gamma dispatched a dozen or so brothers to the Bernie Milton Pavilion who helped with everything from registering scores of contestants, inventorying the cupcakes for panels of judges, preparing awards certificates for the winners, and mopping up the site afterwards. The flood of contestants was much more than we anticipated. The 1st Annual Cupcake Baking Contest was a big success.

APO Gamma, we couldn’t have done it without you!

In January, APO Gamma was ready to start talking about how they could support the 2nd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest 10 months away. In numerous meetings at Starbucks downtown and at Willard Straight Hall on campus (not to mention countless emails), APO Gamma helped us design a sequel that included a fun fundraising element—collecting donations for mental health initiatives and giving donors “cupcake buttons” in return.

Starting in late September, APO Gamma squads fanned out to Ho Plaza, GreenStar Natural Foods Market, and the Apple Harvest Festival to advocate for mental health, take donations for this year’s cause—suicide prevention—and promote the cupcake contest to be held in the Commons on October 14. APO Gamma raised more than $500, well above our expectations.

More important, the brothers’ presence on campus and in the community generated further awareness and prompted conversations that make a difference and could save a life. We know from Sophie’s experience with depression and anxiety, which led her to take a health leave of absence only six months away from graduation, how important it is to know that there is help, that people care.

At The Sophie Fund, we are overwhelmed not only by APO Gamma’s aid with fundraising and contest logistics, but by the heart that the brothers put into their service to the community. We know that APO Gamma is involved around the clock in so many other projects supporting mental health. It is truly something to admire.

We’re expecting a larger turnout for the 2017 cupcake contest. Once again, it wouldn’t happen without APO Gamma.

(Editor’s Note: This blog post written by The Sophie Fund originally appeared October 10, 2017 on the Service Blog of Alpha Phi Omega—Gamma Chapter)

Photo Caption: APO Gamma brothers volunteering for the 2016 Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest

“It Affects People We Just Really Love”

Not very long ago, there was a debilitating stigma around breast cancer. After Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s quick and public announcement this week revealing that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer, USA Today published a great piece tracing how the stigma has been largely overcome. Are there some lessons here for breaking the stigma around mental health? Let’s hope so!

 

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Looking at “some of the big moments that took breast cancer out of the dark and into the pink,” the article starts with Terese Lasser, “the very first true activist… who bumped against the system.” Lasser questioned her surgeon’s indifference, and eventually formed the Reach to Recovery program to support women coping with breast cancer.

Perhaps we need more Terese Lassers bumping “against the system” in mental health.

The article cites a “huge event”—when then-First Lady Betty Ford announced publicly, in 1974, that she had breast cancer.

Thankfully, more and more public figures are “going public” with their mental health struggles. But more often than not, these testimonials are either overlooked by the media, or overshadowed by coverage of behaviors related to the public figures’ disorders.

The article reports on how in 1982 Nancy Brinker founded the first organization to target fundraising for breast cancer research, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. In 2015, Susan G. Komen, just one of many organizations doing this work, reported revenue of $118.4 million. One in 8 women get breast cancer.

Mental health advocates must find more effective ways to fund mental health research. By contrast, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2015 raised less than one-fifth of that—$19.4 million—for its research and advocacy programs. An important organization dealing more broadly with mental health research, the Child Mind Institute, pulled in $11.2 million. An estimated 1 in 5 Americans experienced mental illness in 2015.

USA Today notes how more women were elected to Congress in 1992, and some of them took up the breast cancer cause (including some with personal family experience).

Former Republican Senator Gordan H. Smith of Utah was one such champion for mental health in Congress. After his son died by suicide at age 21 in 2003, Smith pushed for passage of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. It has provided millions in government funds for suicide prevention projects across the nation.

Explaining the success of the fight against breast cancer, a spokesman for the Susan H. Komen foundation remarked: “It affects people we just really love. Our moms and our daughters. Our grandmothers and our sisters. And in some cases our dads.”

Mental illness, too, affects people we just really love.

Caption: The semicolon is a symbol of suicide prevention, the brainchild of Project Semicolon whose slogan holds that “your story isn’t over yet.”

Supporting College Students on Mental Health Leaves of Absence

The Sophie Fund released a proposal August 21 aimed at supporting students taking leaves of absence for mental health reasons from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

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The proposal calls for an Ithaca community-based program featuring a “leave of absence coach,” a community outreach worker providing practical guidance and moral support for students in transition. It also proposes a website hosting useful information about college leave policies, strategies for fruitful time off from school, local housing options, and employment opportunities.

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, said he discovered wide agreement about the need for a program among college administrators, community healthcare services, student organizations, and individual students facing mental health challenges.

“Young people facing mental health issues often suddenly find themselves on leave from school without the campus support networks they relied on as enrolled students,” said MacLeod. “This can become a period of uncertainty and even isolation for many students. With growing numbers of students taking leaves to focus on their mental health issues, we think it is vital that the community find ways to provide support. The goal of the students as well as their institutions should be to chart positive trajectories for their return to school and success in life. We hope administrators at Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College will support the idea.”

MacLeod said The Sophie Fund distributed the proposal to key stakeholders in the community, and hopes it will generate serious discussion about development and funding and lead to the implementation of an effective program by early next year. The proposal estimates as many as 400 students a year may be taking leaves from area colleges.

The proposal seeks to ensure that students on leaves have access to information on the full range of challenges they will confront during their leave period—about housing, jobs, educational opportunities, volunteer opportunities, healthcare services, etc. It seeks to provide substitutes for the campus support systems that become unavailable to students during their leaves.

According to the proposal, today’s generation of college students is experiencing a mental health crisis in line with the increasing rates of mental health disorders in the general population. College counseling centers are reporting rising numbers of students seeking support for serious depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental illnesses.

“Leaves of absence entail an often unexpected, abrupt, and painful loss of a structured environment that includes a support network of friends, professors, university staff, roommates and other fellow students, campus organizations, cultural and athletic facilities, and school medical providers,” the proposal says. “Testimonies from students on mental health leaves of absence relate how it can be a confidence-crushing experience that induces shame and guilt.”

The Sophie Fund was established in April 2016 in memory of Sophie Hack MacLeod, a Cornell University art student who succumbed to her battle with depression in Ithaca on March 26, 2016. The focus for the fund’s work is supporting mental health initiatives aiding young people.

Click here to download a copy of the proposal.

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

The Sophie Fund’s 2017 Campaign

Please consider making a donation today to advance The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives for young people in the Ithaca–Tompkins County community.

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We are working with state, county, and city officials, local mental health agencies, student groups, and college administrators to help our young people with mental disorders live safe and fulfilling lives.

Among our projects so far:

  • Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest to raise awareness and funds for mental health initiatives
  • The Watershed Declaration by 18 organizations, pledging to intensify local suicide prevention efforts
  • Launch of Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition by more than 40 local leaders
  • Campaign to bring Zero Suicide Initiative to Tompkins County
  • The Sophie Fund Author Series: “Readings on Mental Health,” at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca
  • “Life Coach” initiative to provide local resources and support to college students on mental health leaves of absence

100% of donated monies go directly to local

non-profit organizations supporting mental health

To make a donation today, click here to be directed to The Sophie Fund donation page at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County.

Thank You!