Five Years After The Watershed Declaration

Five Aprils ago, The Sophie Fund organized a meeting of community mental health stakeholders representing 18 governmental and non-profit organizations from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

Co-Founder Scott MacLeod introduced The Sophie Fund to the community, explaining that it was established in memory of his daughter who died by suicide in Ithaca the previous year, and outlining its mission to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in the greater Ithaca area.

Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, announced plans to convene a “key stakeholders” with the aim of establishing a suicide prevention coalition in Tompkins County.

At the close of the April 17, 2017 meeting, the assembled stakeholders adopted a solemn resolution. It was dubbed The Watershed Declaration, as the meeting was hosted by The Watershed, a new downtown watering hole owned by Sophie’s friend and former colleague.

The declaration reads:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

How did that pledge turn out? The results are mixed.

Since The Watershed Declaration was adopted, Tompkins County has averaged 12 suicide deaths per year. There is anecdotal evidence of a spike in local suicides, including those on college campuses, in 2021 and 2022. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 10-34.

GET INVOLVED: Interested to join the cause of suicide prevention? Email The Sophie Fund at thesophiefund2016@gmail.com

In June 2017, then Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick issued a proclamation in support of The Watershed Declaration, and the Tompkins County Legislature proclaimed September 2017 to be The Watershed Declaration Month.

Led by Tompkins County Mental Health Services, 40 local mental health leaders came together in July 2017 and launched the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

In October 2017, The Sophie Fund organized an expert briefing at the Statler Hotel for senior healthcare administrators throughout Tompkins County; the topic was the Zero Suicide Model, which is designed to improve suicide prevention measures in healthcare systems.

Eight months later, the Suicide Prevention Coalition adopted Zero Suicide as its policy; eight healthcare providers stepped up to declare themselves “Zero Suicide Champions,” pledging to explore implementation of the model. In July 2018, the county legislature unanimously passed a resolution to support Zero Suicide, calling on local healthcare and behavioral healthcare providers to follow the model’s systematic clinical approach to preventing suicides.

Coalition work toward drafting a strategic plan, creating a leadership team, expanding membership, conducting outreach, and following up on Zero Suicide implementation badly drifted in 2020; this was partly due to leadership transitions throughout the county’s healthcare agencies, as well as disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The coalition resumed monthly meetings in February 2021, elected Sally Manning of Racker as convener, and resumed work on a strategic plan.

In February 2022, then coalition unanimously adopted a three-year strategic plan guided by a vision “for a community where no lives are lost to suicide” and using data, science, and collaborations to implement effective strategies.

The five-point plan calls for using data to inform suicide prevention strategies; advancing the Zero Suicide Model in healthcare; reducing suicide in the youth population; reducing access to lethal means; and advocating for policies and practices to prevent suicide. The coalition has formed work groups to drive efforts in all five areas.

For its part, The Sophie Fund re-launched its Zero Suicide Initiative with a series of presentations and trainings to reinvigorate work on the model in Tompkins County.

On November 16 The Sophie Fund hosted “Call to Action: Suicide Prevention in Healthcare,” an expert briefing for top healthcare leaders by Jenna Heise, director of Suicide Prevention Implementation at the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.

This was followed on March 9 with “Understanding, Identifying, and Addressing Suicide Risk: A Clinical Primer for Behavioral Health Providers,” a training with national suicide prevention leaders hosted by The Wellness Institute.

The Sophie Fund on March 24 hosted “Implementation of Zero Suicide,” a suicide prevention presentation for front line managers representing 10 leading healthcare providers in Tompkins County; it was led by Tammy Weppelman, the State Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and Mike Olson, the crisis program manager at My Health My Resources, an agency currently implementing the model in in Tarrant County, Texas.

On June 16, Virna Little, CEO of Concert Health and a leading expert on integrating primary care and behavioral health, will provide a briefing for primary care physicians and their teams on implementing Zero Suicide protocols in primary care practices.

Finally, in June Jenna Heise of the Suicide Prevention Center of New York will return to Ithaca for a roundtable discussion with top healthcare leaders on Zero Suicide implementation progress.

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

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!)