Support Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention Champions

Hey, Ithaca! It’s National Suicide Prevention Month. Mark your calendars to support our own community’s efforts to save lives and reach those who are struggling.

The Greater Central New York chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds its annual Greater Ithaca “Out of the Darkness” walk in Myers Park on Saturday September 9 with check-in starting at 9:30 a.m.

The local walk is among 400 held across the country every year to raise awareness and collect funds for AFSP’s mission, which includes research, training, programming, and education. Walkers include many people who have lost a loved one, friend, or colleague to suicide.

Click here to register for the walk or to make an online donation toward AFSP-CNY’s $60,000 fundraising goal.

“It has been 25 years since we lost my sad to suicide, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and miss him dearly,” said Crystal Howser, walk co-chair and captain of Team Hope.

“It is my goal to work hard, educate, erase stigma and help fight to prevent suicide losses from happening. This is our eleventh walk in Tompkins County. We need to let others know they are not alone and it is okay to reach out for help.”

“Boots & Bling” is a Western Gala fundraiser at the Ithaca Hotel on Saturday from 5-9 p.m. to support Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service. A night of dinner, dancing, inspiration, and connection will celebrate SPCS’s milestones, growth, and future vision.

Reservations closed for the event on September 1, but to make a donation to SPCS anytime you may click here. The funds will support SPCS’s critical mission as a regional call center for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline as well as a trainer and educator for suicide prevention in the community.

We Can Prevent Suicide Deaths Together

Despite increasing openness about mental illness amid efforts to fight stigma, suicide remains a taboo word. Many people experience suicidal thoughts, but keep that to themselves. However, suicide deaths are preventable, and many recent advances enable us to better prevent them.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, an opportunity for all of us to learn more about mental illness, suicide, and what we can do to help those who may be struggling. It is a time to redouble efforts to break down the stigma that too often holds us back.

The recent advances include better screening tools for identifying people at risk of suicide, improved care management protocols, upgraded crisis response measures, and suicide-specific therapy treatment. Another advance is the introduction last year of the 9-8-8 hotline number to support people experiencing a mental health crisis.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States. You can also call 988 if you are concerned about a loved one, friend, or colleague. Veterans and/or their loved ones and friends can call 988 and then press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

988 calls go to into a nearby crisis center, one of 200 across the country. When people call or text 988, or connect to chat online, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the Lifeline network. Trained counselors listen, understand how the caller’s problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.

The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Calls and texts to the Lifeline soared 33 percent since the simpler 988 number was introduced in July 2022.

According to KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation), in its first 11 months of operation 988 received nearly 4 million contacts, including 740,000 chats and more than 600,000 texts; an additional 1 million connections were made to the Veteran’s Crisis Line.

Ithaca’s 54-year-old Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service has long been part of the Lifeline network. Besides connecting through 9-8-8, its trained counselors can also be reached by dialing 607-272-1616.

The Lifeline has been proven to be effective. According to its administrator, numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor. 

The Lifeline is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health. SAMSHA provides a Partner Toolkit to help promote the 988 number and other suicide prevention services.

The latest statistics released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control serve as a reminder of America’s mental health crisis.

After declining in 2019 and 2020, suicide deaths increased approximately 5 percent in the United States in 2021. Provisional estimates now indicate that suicide deaths further increased by 2.6 percent in 2022, according to the CDC. One encouraging indicator in the provisional data was that suicide deaths of people aged 10-24 declined by 8.4 percent.

Overall, suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent in the past two decades.

The latest figures underscore “the depths of the devastating mental health crisis in America,” according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “These numbers are a sobering reminder of how urgent it is that we further expand access to mental health care, address the root causes of mental health struggles, and recognize the importance of checking on and supporting one another. If you or a loved one are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, please know that your life matters and that you are not alone.”

Take a moment to review the warning signs for suicide, as provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Be sure to get help for yourself or others if you see the signs. You may save a life.

According to AFSP, something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Warning sign: Talk

If a person talks about:

Killing themselves

Feeling hopeless

Having no reason to live

Being a burden to others

Feeling trapped

Unbearable pain

Warning sign: Behavior

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

Increased use of alcohol or drugs

Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods

Withdrawing from activities

Isolating from family and friends

Sleeping too much or too little

Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Giving away prized possessions



Warning sign: Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:



Loss of interest




Relief/Sudden Improvement

For local, state, and national resources, visit The Sophie Fund’s suicide prevention page.

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

The Blossoming of Ithaca’s Crisis Lifeline

Tiffany Bloss faced the unthinkable. Just over a decade ago, her son experienced a mental health crisis, and she nearly lost him to suicide. As her son went through hospitalization and inpatient treatment, she grew determined to end the stigma around suicide and help others in similar circumstances.

Bloss became the executive director of Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention &  Crisis Service in April 2022. SPCS is the regional call center for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. In recent years, it has handled about 6,000 calls a year from individuals seeking support in a moment of need.

With Bloss at the helm, the 54-year-old organization is undergoing a renewal. In the past year, she has rebuilt SPCS’s 12-seat board of directors, quadrupled call center staff with an accent on diversity, extended call hours to 24/7, and enlarged its footprint of coverage to include 16 surrounding counties in addition to Tompkins County. She has plans to add an online chat option for people in crisis as well, which she hopes will help engage youth who need support.

“We’ve got a lot happening here!” said Bloss with trademark enthusiasm.

“We are focused on the de-escalation of callers, and the counselors here are working so hard to support our mission and really meet people who connect with us where they are. This is important work. We are currently trending to reach over 10,000 contacts in 2023. We are focused on meeting that need, and continuing to expand to fill the mental health gaps within the community.”

Bloss has already introduced a new 24/7 “warm line,” to give callers a connection when they may be feeling down but are not in crisis. Another new feature coming soon is a tele-care service in which SPCS staff will make brief outbound calls to people in need of social connection, such as the elderly or people discharged from inpatient health or behavioral health facilities.

Beginning last December, SPCS began partnering with Early Alert, which provides regular wellness check-ins for people who opt into the national program. Bloss said that SPCS will also soon take part in a nationwide pilot program for a 988 adult LGBTQ+ lifeline.

New SPCS hires include a full-time licensed social worker to focus solely on the well-being of its crisis counselors themselves, and a part-time community relations coordinator to handle public events and oversee the website and social media. On top of all the changes, SPCS’s call center is getting new equipment, new cubicles, and a fresh coat of paint. A charity event is planned at the Hotel Ithaca on September 9 to relaunch SPCS in the community.

Hiring and training lifeline counselors is one of the most important aspects of Bloss’s job. They are selected in a competitive interview process, and then go through a 180-hour apprenticeship that prepares them to support callers. Counselors learn to be empathetic, active listeners who can make assessments about how best to help each individual. The training is assisted with an SPCS-developed 130-page guidebook on counselor protocols.

“We teach our counselors to think they’re the only person asking if the caller is okay,” Bloss explained. “Sometimes they are, and because of this, we need our counselors to approach every conversation with that level of care.”

Melinda Cozzolino, an associate professor at Ithaca College who serves as SPCS board vice president, credits Bloss for significantly improving the organization’s capacity.

“She leads, she listens, she educates,” Cozzolino said. “I can’t even make a list of what she has accomplished in less than one year. She has redone policies, developed training materials, and has had many new counselors and volunteers trained. She successfully integrated all of our 988 services, received grants. No one exemplifies our mission more than she does.”

SPCS’s upgrade comes at a critical time for emergency response services. Calls to mental health help lines increased by around 35 percent during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and bounced nearly another 45 percent with the introduction of the easy-to-remember 988 national crisis lifeline in 2022.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national suicide rate increased by 4 percent from 2020 to 2021. The CDC says that more than 1 million Americans make a suicide attempt each year.

Before taking up her SPCS post, Bloss held positions at Cayuga Health, CareFirstNY, and the American Cancer Society. She also serves as a volunteer chat counselor for The Trevor Project, whose mission is to end suicide among young LGBTQ+ people.

While her personal connection to the subject of suicide can feel heavy, Bloss is driven by SPCS’s vital mission and her desire to promote mental health education.

“I have big beliefs about social responsibility,” Bloss said. “I get to see my son thrive every day, and I’m at a point now where I can help others and I choose to. Drawing people together and watching them learn from one another is such a beautiful thing.”

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service at 1-607-272-1616. SPCS’s warm line can be reached at 1-607-210-8328. Or, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

—By Lyndsey Honor

Lyndsey Honor, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a senior at Ithaca College, majoring in Writing and minoring in Honors, French, and Theatre. She is the managing editor of the school’s Stillwater Magazine and has written for the Ithaca Times.

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

A Film by Carlos Hernandez Rivera

Carlos Hernandez Rivera looks into the camera with all the beautiful innocence of a young man who loves science and Boy Scouts. But then his words describe two deaths—and his own determination to prevent such tragedies in the future. “I’m Carlos, and I was affected by suicide,” he says. “Two people that were close to me died within a short span of time.”


Screenshot from The Damaging and the Uniting

So begins The Damaging and the Uniting, a short film produced, written, and directed by Hernandez Rivera, 14, to be screened at Cinemopolis June 6, about his experience of losing two friends to suicide during the current school year—Elliott Green, 16, a close buddy since Lansing Middle School, and Ryan Sibley, 14, a ninth-grade classmate this year at P-Tech Academy.

“This movie is personal,” Hernandez Rivera said before a private screening last week at P-Tech, a magnet high school/early college program in computer science and advanced manufacturing at TST BOCES. “I wanted to help, I wanted to help as many people as I can. I am motivated to help other people so they don’t go through tough times and so that suicide is not a problem anymore.”

The idea for the film came as Hernandez Rivera was developing a freshman-year capstone project. After Elliott’s death in March, Hernandez consulted with his teacher, Sunshine Miller, and decided to create a video that could raise awareness about mental health and promote suicide prevention. Then in April, as Hernandez Rivera was story boarding the film, came the terrible news that Ryan, his P-Tech science lab partner, had taken his own life.

Hernandez Rivera dedicates the film to Elliott and Ryan. He and Elliott had been pals for years. One of Hernandez’s fondest memories is of the two-day, 100-mile biking trip the duo made with another friend around Cayuga Lake last summer. They shared a passion for Boy Scouts—Elliott’s father is a scoutmaster—but were not above messing around, like the time they tried to sink each other’s canoes in a water-gun fight.

Hernandez Rivera remembers Ryan as an easy-going guy who was fun to hang around with. In the film, Hernandez Rivera includes a still image of a smiling Ryan at school wearing a “Family Guy” T-shirt. Their tight-knit class of 19 students had just taken a field trip to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. “He seemed happy on that trip,” Hernandez recalled. Ryan was an accomplished wrestler, who had recently become a Seaman recruit in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

Hernandez Rivera interviews two women to further show the human face of suicide and loss—Beth Dryer, who lost a younger brother, Brian, 25; and Melissa Addy, whose son Max died by suicide at 22. “It refocused my priorities in life, time was short,” recalled Dryer, adding, after an emotional pause, “This is tough, so clearly it still has a major impact on my life.” When Hernandez Rivera asked Addy about “the one thing” she misses about her son, she touchingly replied, “I miss everything.”

Hernandez Rivera described the blow he felt after his mother told him that Elliott had passed away. “I was in a good rhythm, and then Elliott dies,” he said. “I started falling back in school, I wasn’t doing as well. Sometimes I would get lost. I would walk into a room and say, ‘Whoa, how did I get here?’ I would blank out sometimes.”

“Then I’d be like, ‘I’m here. I’m here. I got this,’” he added. “Self-motivation has got me through it. I changed when Elliot passed away. I felt like I had to do more things, I had to talk to people. To communicate with people, it is a good skill to have.”

Hernandez Rivera explained that making the film has helped in his own struggle with grief. “It has given me faith in myself, that even though there are obstacles that are huge, that we will face traumatic things in our lives, we can get back up, and keep pushing on,” he said.

Suicide is an extremely delicate and even taboo topic for schools, but Miller threw her full support behind the project. “Carlos has given me courage,” she explained. “It would have been easy to just say, ‘No, we’re not doing this.’ Adults make all the decisions, which are good in lot of ways, but we’re too quick to say, ‘Lets not talk about this.’ This has changed me. I hope Carlos’s courage can light the way for real change in our schools surrounding how we deal with suicide.”

“This is why I went into education,” said Barry Derfel, TST BOCES assistant superintendent, speaking to Hernandez Rivera at the private screening at P-Tech last week. “I am really proud of the work that you have done. This is what school should be. At P-Tech, we collaborate with families, business, and community, to create fully accessible, meaningful, and relevant curricula. I don’t think here is anything more meaningful and relevant than this, that’s culturally responsive and sustaining.”


Carlos Hernandez Rivera

Hernandez Rivera consulted Lee-Ellen Marvin of Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service about conducting the interviews used in the film. He also had the help of Ithaca filmmaker Redouane Elghazi in the filming and editing. He won the support of the P-Tech administration not only to tackle suicide in a class project—and one involving the school itself—but to go forward with a public screening at Cinemopolis, Ithaca’s first-run movie theater specializing in independent, foreign, and locally produced films.

Hernandez Rivera’s dreams “are all over the place”— he thinks about becoming a global-warming scientist, working for NASA, or Space X, and even Tesla. For now, though, he is hoping that his film will help spread awareness about mental health.

“My goal is so that this doesn’t become an issue anymore, that suicide is a thing of the past,” he said. “We should realize that not everyone is as happy as they seem. Some people do need talking to, even if they look happy. If we’re having a bad day and we are mean to other people, just be nice.”

—By Scott MacLeod

Scott MacLeod is a co-founder of The Sophie Fund

The Damaging and the Uniting will be screened for the public June 6 from 5-6 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. @Cinempolis, 120 East Green Street, Ithaca, NY. 14850. Admission is free of charge.

The Damaging and The Uniting