Cornell Circle K: Service, Leadership, and Fellowship

Cornell Circle K is a student organization committed to doing meaningful service through direct community engagement, developing its members to be the successful leaders today, and being an advocate for positive change in order to create a better world for humanity.

Cornell Circle K members

In our latest initiative, Cornell Circle K organized a mental wellness kit fundraiser to support mental health in Ithaca and on the Cornell University campus and to benefit The Sophie Fund. Our members sold hot chocolate kits with peppermint candies, Mind Your Mind stickers, mental health resources, and Sophie Fund buttons and stickers to encourage a healthy start to Cornell’s 2021 spring semester.

We were in contact with other Cornell organizations and club members in order to spread an engaging message of support and to remove the stigma associated with accessing help for mental health improvement. Especially under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, it is easy for students to feel isolated and overwhelmed with stress. Our fundraiser had the goal to relieve this stress for students undergoing these unprecedented times. Altogether, Cornell Circle K sold 65 mental wellness kits and raised a total of $243.00 for The Sophie Fund.

“The stigma attached to mental health can make it a difficult conversation to start on campus. The collaboration with The Sophie Fund and Cornell Circle K provided us with an exciting opportunity to start those conversations, as well as raise awareness about the need for strong support and resources,” said Julia Fan, co-president of Cornell Circle K.

Cornell Circle K’s mental health kit

Brendon Nguyen, also co-president of Cornell Circle K, mentioned: “I am so glad Circle K connected with The Sophie Fund to put together a fundraiser to spread some joy while also sharing mental wellness resources with more of the Cornell community. During my early years at Cornell, I remember feeling so isolated with my anxiety, but I was lucky to have a lot of support to normalize conversations around mental wellness and eventually seeking professional help. After hearing about The Sophie Fund’s mission, it seemed like a no-brainer to support a local nonprofit that actively works towards helping more youth take better care of their mental health. The more we can do to support each other’s mental wellness, the more we can accomplish and the better off we are.”

“We are honored that Cornell Circle K chose us for its mental wellness initiative,” said Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund. “Beyond that, we are so grateful to see Cornell students supporting each other, and working to break down the stigma about seeking help for mental health.”

Preparing the Ithaca Children’s Garden

Founded in 1936, Cornell Circle K is a campus-based, student-led, inclusive service organization. It is a proud and active member of Circle K International, the world’s largest student-led collegiate service organization, and maintains close connections with the International K Family (Kiwanis, Key Club, Builders Club, and Aktion Club). Circle K International boasts a membership of more than 11,000 collegiate service leaders on more than 500 campuses worldwide. This organization is based around three tenets: service, leadership, and fellowship. 

Throughout the year, Cornell Circle K completes various service kits to get involved around the Ithaca community and beyond. During the fall 2020 semester, members wrote letters to residents and healthcare workers at a Hattie Larlham care facility in Ohio to encourage wellbeing and show support for those at risk of Covid-19. Members also crafted baby blankets out of fleece cloth for Arnot Health Hospitals in Elmira. Another service kit with tissue paper carnations and no slip socks was done for seniors at Ithaca area nursing homes. Dog toys were also created as a service kit to support local animal shelters. 

Past fundraisers by Cornell Circle K have supported other local community organizations. During the fall semester of 2020 we completed a sticker fundraiser supporting the Multicultural Center of Ithaca, which has a passion for eliminating barriers in racial justice, cultural development and representation, and equity and inclusion.

We have raised money for Cayuga Dog Rescue, a local rescue shelter, which made it possible for one of their dogs, Snowball, to spend the day at Cornell Vet Hospital’s oncology clinic having some mammary tumors evaluated. Two other rescues, Sammy and Toby, also received winter coats, special treats, brain teaser puzzles, and tug toys.

Cornell Circle K has also been involved with the Cayuga Nature Center helping prepare the garden for winter as well as the Ithaca Children’s Garden pulling weeds and raking leaves. Our service and volunteer projects are wide-ranging but have a focus on communal unity and support. 

—By Max Fante

Max Fante ’24 is the Fundraising Committee Chair for Cornell Circle K. He is a Biological Sciences major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.

It Takes a Village

Seventeen-year-old Autum tended to describe herself as introverted, closed off, and with a lot to say but not always the opportunity to say it. She often found herself struggling to find her voice and to interact with people.

The Village at Ithaca changed Autum’s outlook completely. Today, a sociable proactive high school senior, Autum goes through her days speaking up for what she knows is wrong and what needs to change. She is outgoing and collaborates with peers and adults alike. As a summer youth employee, Autum became a founding member of the Village’s Girls of Color female empowerment group.  She is the student coordinator of the Stolen Joy Project, a social media initiative that shares stories of racism and oppression experienced in public school by students of color. 

“Through the Village at Ithaca, I have found a safe space for me to be my true, authentic self,” said Autum, explaining how she had the opportunity to meet peers who have felt misplaced and share stories strengthening their bond.

Founded in 2002, the Village at Ithaca is a non-profit organization that advocates for education equity for black, brown, low income, and other underrepresented and underserved populations. Designed to meet family needs, the Village provides wraparound support services such as academic tutoring, family advocacy, and emergency food and financial support.  The Village is committed to actively listening to families and designing programming based on community needs.  “We as an organization, as a community can always do more and do better for our children and families,” said Executive Director Meryl Phipps.

The Village’s Student Success Center is one of the many programs that focuses on improving students’ understanding of their course material to create a solid foundation. Each student is paired with an Achievement Coach who works one-on-one with them to first “affirm, inspire, encourage, instruct.”  In this current climate of pandemic schooling, the Student Success Center has evolved to include virtual tutoring as well as daily in-person academic support during the school day for middle and high school students struggling to navigate remote learning.

Another important Village service is the Family Advocacy Program, which helps both students and families ensure they have all the resources provided to them to excel in school and their home life. Family Advocates attend school meetings to support caregivers and students in making their voices heard. They also join caregivers of students with disabilities at Committee on Special Education meetings, and advocate for students in disciplinary proceedings. 

The Village is open to students of all ages. The organization has supported some young people from elementary school all the way through college. “We take our name very seriously,” said Phipps. “Once you reach out and want to be a part of our village, we will follow you all the way.”

The Village operates with Phipps as the only full-time employee and three part-time employees. Phipps finds herself with her hands full, writing grant proposals one day and tutoring biology the next. She is a 2009 graduate of Cornell Law School, and practiced family law in Ithaca before joining the Village. “I was frustrated by the challenges of working with kids in an oppressive system that wasn’t serving the needs of vulnerable people,” said Phipps. “I’ve always been more interested in policy work and in thinking outside of the box to create solutions to historically rooted problems—this all has been liberating.”

—By Anna Moura

Anna Moura, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a Class of 2021 Writing major and Psychology minor at Ithaca College.

[The Village is the recipient of $1,018.00 in donations collected in The Sophie Fund’s 2020 Cupcake Button Fundraising Campaign, which is held annually to aid local nonprofits supporting mental health and wellness. The Sophie Fund thanks the following student organizations for participating in the campaign: 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); Active Minds at Ithaca College; and Active Minds at Ithaca High School. To learn more about the Village at Ithaca, or to become involved in its work, visit the Village on social media, at http://www.villageatithaca.org, or e-mail contact@villageatithaca.org.]

Support Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

Now more than ever, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca needs the aid of the community to ensure that it can continue to be a place to turn when someone needs support for their mental health. Click here to donate to F&Cs’s Annual Cardboard Boat Race (Virtual Edition) fundraiser.

Scenes from the 2019 Cardboard Boat Race on Lake Cayuga

The Covid-19 pandemic prevented F&CS from hosting its fun-packed fundraiser on Cayuga Lake as usual. But boat “captains” are nonetheless flying their virtual flags high to collect funds to benefit F&CS.

This year’s goal is to raise $40,000 by September 13. Donations will support high quality mental health care that is affordable and accessible to anyone in Tompkins County.

More than 40 clinical therapists and psychiatrists at Family & Children’s Service help some 2,000 individuals and families every year by providing counseling and psychiatry services for depression, anxiety, and mental wellness.

F&CS also operates a range of social service programs, such as temporary housing for runaway and homeless youth and support for kinship foster families. F&CS’s Community Outreach Workers provide social worker support throughout downtown Ithaca.

Watch a short video to hear President and CEO Karen Schachere and board members discuss F&CS’s mission.

Ready? It’s Time for Ithaca’s 4th Annual Cupcake Contest!

Tasty cakes. Delicious frostings. Creative toppings. We can’t wait to see what cupcake delights our amateur bakers have in store for us again this year. The 4th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest will take place in the Commons on Saturday October 19.

sophiecupcakes

Contestants of all ages are invited and will be eligible for dozens of prizes including a Grand Prize valued at $250. (Open to amateur bakers only.)

Attention Teens and Pre-Teens: A $100 gift certificate redeemable at dozens of downtown Ithaca shops will be presented with this year’s Special Youth Award!

The contest is organized 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.

The 4th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by GreenStar Natural Foods Market, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Cayuga Medical Center.

To enter the cupcake contest, contestants are asked to bring their submissions to the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons from 10–11:30 a.m. on Saturday October 19. The winners will be announced and prizes awarded at a ceremony at the Pavilion later the same day at 3 p.m. There will be musical acts throughout the day!

Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the 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.

In conjunction with the contest, The Sophie Fund is again organizing a “Cupcake Button” fundraising campaign, with monies donated this year to the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, which fights sexual assault and domestic violence.

Click here for all the information on contest procedures and rules, and to download a registration form.

A Day at the Alley Cat Café

Kristin recalls the afternoon when a troubled woman came into her Ithaca café. The woman had apparently just split up with a partner and was feeling the stress of managing her house and raising her children. “A cat came and laid on her chest, and she just started weeping,” said Kristin. “It was the first time she felt loved in a really long time.”

alleycat3

Welcome to the Alley Cat Café on East Seneca Street, which has become a surprisingly popular downtown community hub since opening last June. As its name suggests, the establishment is a café, which offers drinks and tasty delights for customers who want to lounge for a while and for those on the run alike. But it is especially a haven for rescued cats with names like Luna, Ginny, and Mack, and Penelope and Millie Joy, who have their own large glassed-in quarters in the rear of the café where customers can play with them ($5 per 30 minutes) and adopt them if they wish.

Café owner Kristin, 36, who prefers to go by only her first name, has been rescuing abandoned and abused cats for two decades. She also runs Browncoat Cat Rescue, a volunteer organization that first took strides in 2012 to find and support abandoned cats in Ithaca to find new homes; Browncoat provides the cats for the Alley Cat Café and collects the $100 adoption fee. To date, according to Kristen, more than 20 cats rescued by Browncoat have been adopted from the Alley Cat Café.

At any given time of day, customers will be sipping a cappuccino or drinking tea in the front of the café while a handful of others will be canoodling with kittens in the back. You’ll see students popping in on the way to or from class, young lovers on dates, and parents with tons of kids in tow, all eager to hold a cat and take selfies with the feline menagerie.

There’s Freddy, with brown and black fur, and Clarissa, a ginger cat, who love to jump around with visitors. Among the most calming and relaxing cats is a sweet ginger kitty named Strawberry, the kind of cat who purrs on you, goes to sleep, and gives you the kind of connection many people need, Kristin said. Sitting on your lap, this kitten purrs at a healing frequency—the feline happiness helps heal human hearts, Kristin said.

alleycat2

Everyday customers can enjoy a menu including items like lentil spinach soup and almond chocolate cupcakes. There’s also a long list of hot and cold beverages, many of them feline-themed (and served up by purr-istas, of course): The Cat Lady (mocha latte with lavender), The Black Cat (French press coffee with double espresso shot), and the Meowcchiato (double espresso with a dash of frothed milk).

Special events also bring in the crowds, such as Knitten’ Mittens with Kittens, Slow Flow Cat Yoga, craft afternoons, and board game nights (Exploding Kittens, Cat Stax); the café also hosts talks about gender, sexuality, and healthier relationships.

The cats, meanwhile, have their own entertainment: besides cuddling with their affectionate human visitors, they enjoy a Romper Room of high perches, hideaways, and meandering obstacle courses that allow them to leap or just sleep as they like. In December, Kristin inaugurated Movie Night—for the cats—with a film about bird watching.

alleycat1

As the story of the weeping woman indicates, the Alley Cat Café functions as a de facto animal therapy space. “There are a lot of people who are missing their friends, or a sense of connection, and just being able to connect with our cats meets their needs, even if it’s just for thirty minutes,” said Kristin.

Kristin goes so far as to say that some customers reported significant improvements in their mental health after visiting the Alley Cat Café. “Multiple people would thank us for the effects on their emotional health and said that us being here has kept them from self-harm and literally saved their lives,” Kristin said.

Families who have adopted cats from the café also report benefits. One family adopted a cat for a 5-year-old girl who was having trouble making friends. “She was able to blossom as a person and improved her social skills with her peers,” Kristen said. The café also runs a cat foster program where people can take a cat home for a limited period of three months, which Kristen says has been popular with law and engineering students.

Alley Cat Café has proved a success with young and old. In a Facebook comment in November @IthacaAlleyCat, Lyn Stone wrote: “I love what you do! I’m 82 years old and don’t travel much but my granddaughter is coming in from Colorado in early December and I can’t wait to bring her to your café.”

—By Amber Raiken

Amber Raiken, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing, with a Creative Writing Concentration, and minoring in Education Studies. She is a writer and the social media director for IC Distinct Magazine, a student-run culture and fashion publication.

Photos courtesy Alley Cat Café