Sign Up for Mental Health First Aid

Mental health challenges are more common than ever. Are you concerned about a friend or family member? Do you want to gain confidence in talking about mental health? Do you want to know more about what to do in a crisis?

Join the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County for a free Mental Health First Aid training on Saturday, July 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a comprehensive course from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing that teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

The training teaches the skills to reach out and provide initial help and support to an adult who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis.  

To receive certification, participants must attend for the full-day course, and complete a 2-hour self-paced pre-course. (For those without computer/internet access for the self-paced course, the Mental Health Association can provide space and a computer.)

This training is provided in partnership with The History Center in Tompkins County with financial support from The Sophie Fund.

MHFA covers:

         •        Common signs and symptoms of mental health challenges

         •        Common signs and symptoms of substance use challenges

         •        How to interact with a person in crisis

         •        How to connect a person with help

         •        Information on trauma and its impacts

         •        Self-care

MHFA teaches a five-step action plan for first aiders:

         •        A: Assess for risk of suicide or harm

         •        L: Listen nonjudgmentally

         •        G: Give reassurance and information

         •        E: Encourage appropriate professional help

         •        E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies

WHEN: Saturday July 9, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with a break for lunch on your own)

WHERE: The History Center in Tompkins County, 110 N. Tioga Street (Ithaca Commons), Ithaca, NY 14850

COST: Free

TO REGISTER: Contact Melanie Little, Director of Education, at or (607) 273-9250.

—By Melanie Little

Melanie Little is the Director of Education and a Certified Peer Specialist at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Story House Ithaca: Sharing Stories, Building Community 

Story House Ithaca is built on a simple idea: Communities are healthier and more interesting when people get to know each other better. We think sharing stories can help make that happen.

Story House Ithaca co-directors Lesley Greene and Jonathan Miller with Nia Nunn of the Southside Community Center (L) and Christa Nuñez of The Learning Farm (R)

And not just “once upon a time” types of stories. There are many different ways to communicate experience and ideas—in fiction and nonfiction, poetry and song, journalism and documentary, theater and dance, oral history and spoken word, photography and film, puppetry and mime, graphics and animation, social media, multimedia, and media yet to be invented. We’d love for Story House to be a home for any and all of those forms of storytelling. 

We sometimes talk about Story House as if it’s an actual house. It isn’t, at least not yet. Our main inspirations are physical spaces where people come to gather—notably a wonderful building in the Netherlands called Story House Belvédère. But we don’t have the funds for our own place now, and we think there are advantages to popping up in public or online or in other people’s spaces. Who needs a building when you have the world? 

So what does Story House actually do? Since our first foray into programming in late 2019, we’ve organized an exhibition and event series on migration, a series of readings on exile and the search for home, and a panel on press freedom around the world. We produced a community-sourced video imagining life after the pandemic and a video celebrating the women and girls of a local community organization. We’ve sponsored workshops on cartooning, comedy, and songwriting, and promoted storytelling performances and a comedy show. On several occasions, we’ve collected video for other organizations eager to tell their own stories. Recently, we launched a speaker series we call “Placemakers,” featuring people and groups using art and culture to build community. 

Our most ambitious project to date is “Breaking Our Silence: Storytelling for Mental Health.” This is a series of events beginning April 23 that includes a film screening and Q&A, movement workshops on dealing with anxiety and grief, an open mic story night, storytelling performances at local churches, a panel on writing about mental illness, an advocacy workshop, and a community celebration at Ithaca High School that includes choral music, theater, dance, storytelling, and more. 

READ MORE “Breaking Our Silence”

One advantage to having such a loose definition of “story” is that we have no problem coming up with programming ideas. Lurking on our Google Drive is a spreadsheet with an ever-growing list. Several are for ongoing series, like the open mic Story Night that launches May 3, or a monthly Bar Choir, where friends and strangers can come together to learn and perform a song in three-part harmony, or a Listening Room for group deep dives into great audio, or a regular meet-up for swapping stories through song.

We’re also keen on annual or seasonal events, like a Black film festival that we hope becomes an Ithaca tradition, or events around Mother’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Indigenous People’s Day, or Mental Health Awareness Month. And we’re always game for one-off events (one of our favorites is a wide-open show-and-tell called This Thing I Did).

And we’re not just about events! With or without our own facility, we’d love to become a maker space for storytellers in any medium, where folks can work on projects together, or teach and learn and develop new skills. 

Which leads to another big idea behind Story House. It’s not about us. The Ithaca area is full of amazing groups and talented people. We’re happy to create and present original programming, but we see our greatest value as a catalyst and connector. Everyone has stories to tell, and we’d like to help them tell them. That may mean organizing a workshop or course, or helping with fundraising or planning or publicizing an event. Or it may just mean providing a soapbox and microphone and stepping out of the way. 

Story House Ithaca is a project of the nonprofit Center for Transformative Action. In all our programs and activities, we are committed to creating inclusive spaces that welcome diversity. We strive to foster interactions between people of different cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, with the goal of working toward shared understanding and a more equitable, anti-racist society.

If you’d like to be involved, or if you have an idea for a program, don’t be a stranger!

By Jonathan Miller and Lesley Greene

Jonathan Miller and Lesley Greene are the co-directors of Story House Ithaca. Miller is a journalist and documentary producer, and a board member of Ithaca City of Asylum. Greene is a playwright and theater producer, and the co-founder and co-organizer of Porchfest.

For more information, go to Story House Ithaca’s website. Send program ideas through the website’s “Pitch Us” form, or email Follow Story House Ithaca on Facebook and Instagram

“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.

In Our Own Voice

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) works to end stigma around mental health through support, education, and advocacy in our community.

One NAMI program that promotes conversation and awareness on this topic is called In Our Own Voice, in which people with lived experience talk openly about what it’s like to live with a mental health condition through public presentations.

At NAMI Finger Lakes, we are growing the In Our Own Voice program to increase awareness and normalize discussions around mental health. We provide training using a NAMI signature program model for people with lived experience who wish to become presenters and help others through sharing their story.

NAMI-FL coordinates all presentations, which range in length, depending upon how many presenters participate. We can also facilitate virtual or in-person presentations depending upon the comfort level of the presenters and current COVID-19 status or other restrictions.

Some Benefits of In Our Own Voice:

For the presenter:

—Build confidence and pride in one’s experience and achievements

—Promote continued recovery

—Gain volunteer hours to use toward other certifications

—Enhance public speaking and storytelling skills

—Build a resume of appearances and references

—Change attitudes and assumptions about people with mental health conditions

—Know that you’re changing lives through sharing your experience

For the community:

—Increased program offerings to participants of recovery and wellness programs (as attendees or presenters)

—Increased program offerings to participants of work empowerment programs (as attendees or presenters)

—Public education events about living with mental health conditions

—An end to stigma around mental health conversations and care

—An introduction to free NAMI mental health support and education

If you know or are an adult with lived experience who would like to learn more or become an In Our Own Voice presenter, please email

Click here for more information about In Our Own Voice.

—By Beth McGee

Beth McGee is the executive director of NAMI Finger Lakes

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