Celebrate Mental Health Month in Tompkins!

Rock and R&B bands strumming and singing, a pop DJ spinning hit tunes, a juggler who thrills, music and writing workshops, nature walks, story times and face painting for kids, yoga classes, pickleball matches and frisbee tossing, street food and ice cream dished up for free—it’s all happening at Stewart Park on Saturday May 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Neo Project Will Perform at Better Together for Mental Health May 13

“Better Together for Mental Health,” inviting the public to celebrate National Mental Health Awareness Month, is the effort of more than a dozen community stakeholders supported by local musicians, artists, mental health practitioners, volunteers, and sponsors.

Besides the festival’s fun and games, local mental health organizations will be on hand to provide wellness tips and information on how and where to get help for those struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other challenges.

“The last few years have shown us that there is so much strength in our community, but also so much need for additional support,” said event organizer Josiah Jacobus-Parker, director of development at Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca.

“More people than ever are talking openly about their mental health—which is great!—but there are still so many people who are struggling with mental wellness on their own. We loved the idea of having a day where anyone in the community could come and learn from real mental health professionals about how to better support themselves, and learn about the incredible array of resources to be found here in Tompkins County.”

Mark Maynard, frontman of the Jerry Garcia-inspired band Scuba Jerry, will perform from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the R&B dance band Neo Project will take over the stage from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Evo Evolution will DJ music for kids, and acoustic musicians will play their instruments around the park. Street performer Nate the Great will dazzle with his juggling act, and maybe even do a little fire-breathing.

Mark Maynard, frontman for Scuba Jerry

Story House Ithaca will put up a Mental Health Heroes Tribute Wall, where anyone can post the names of people who have helped them, and another wall where people can post notes describing “One Thing I Do to Feel Better.”

“Nature Rx” advocate Don Rakow will take attendees on a forest therapy trek; Amber Smith of the Family Reading Partnership will lead young children on a Story Walk and leave them with free copies of Breathe, written by Becky Hemsley and illustrated by Siski Kalla.

Mark Cox of FreeVoice along with Elisa Sciscoli Keeler and Ephemera will host a workshop on Music as Medicine that includes breath work and singing. Cindy Overstreet will lead a workshop on “empowered calm through mindful motion.” Lee-Ellen Marvin will share traditional stories for kids and lead a workshop on storytelling for caregivers.

Erin Durkin of Family & Children’s Service will lead an activity on ageism and senior mental health care, and a trainer from Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services will demonstrate the use of Narcan/fentanyl strips.

Nate the Great

Attendees can help themselves to snacks provided by Luna Inspired Street Food, On the Street Pitas, Meg-a-Moo’s Ice Cream, and Purity Ice Cream.

DOWNLOAD: Mental Health Support and Crisis Services Tompkins County

“We aim to focus on uniting the community through advocacy events that exercise physical and mental health, continually striving to end the stigma for all, ” said Michelle Eells, of Health and Unity for Greg (HUG), an event organizer. “We believe being the CEO of your mind and mentally aware through meditation, walking outside, yoga, listening to music, and so much more, is imperative on a daily basis.”

Sandy True is another event organizer and longtime mental health advocate. “No one escapes mental health challenges, and I am so proud that our community has so many resources and wonderful professionals who are able to help,” she said. “Please prioritize your own mental well being and help others who need you to recognize that they are struggling. We truly are ‘better together.’”

True recalled her own experience with postpartum depression. “I know how much we need to reach out for help during those dark times,” she said. “I was unable to understand what was happening or ask for help. But my mother-in-law, as a social worker, recognized the signs and got me some help. I will be forever indebted to her for saving me and ultimately my family.”

Better Together organizers include: Racker, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, Story House Ithaca, Health and Unity for Greg, The Sophie Fund, Tompkins County Youth Services Department, FreeVoice, Mama’s Comfort Camp, Tompkins Learning Partners, Community Foundation of Tompkins County, and Don Manuel Presents.

“Challenges brought on by the pandemic together with broader issues facing our society today are driving increased needs for mental health support for everyone,” said Greg Hartz, president of Tompkins Trust Co., one of the event’s sponsors.

“Tompkins is pleased to support Better Together in an effort to continue to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our mental health. Thank you to all of our mental health professionals for all you do!”

Other sponsors include Health and Unity for Greg, Johnson & Johnson Services, Sciarabba Walker & Co., The Sophie Fund, True Insurance, Kinney Drugs, Northwestern Mutual, and Warren Real Estate.

“I’m glad to help sponsor an event where a goal is to publicize the many available mental health supports in the community,” said Jay True, president and owner of True Insurance.

Agreed Andrew Hart, Sciarabba Walker’s marketing director: “Mental health is the cornerstone of a healthy community. Sciarabba Walker is proud to sponsor this impactful event to help provide some fun ways to strengthen our collective well-being.”

Click here for more information about Better Together for Mental Health

Time for the 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest!

Still smell the flavors? Spicy apple, blueberry, vanilla-lavender, maple, mango, Earl Grey, crème brûlée, and of course chocolaty chocolate. among many other aromas, tantalized the imaginations of the judges of last year’s Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest.

We can’t wait to see what Ithaca’s amateur bakers come up with in 2022! For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, the contest will be in person again this year, on Saturday October 15 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons.

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

As usual, contestants of all ages are welcome and will be eligible for dozens of prizes including a Grand Prize valued at $250. (Open to amateur bakers only.)

Contestants are invited to submit trays of six cupcakes, their recipes, and brief stories about their creations.

The story could be about a person, place, or thing that inspired your recipe and decoration. Or what special techniques you used. Or what fun you had baking them. Or what challenges you had to overcome making your cupcake dream a reality.

Contest submissions are received from 10 a.m.–11:30 a.m. on Saturday October 15 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion. The entries will then be judged by professionals from Ithaca’s bakeries and restaurants. Judging is based on cupcake taste, decoration, and originality. Winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony at 3 p.m.

Prizes include 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place Awards, a Youth Award for teens and pre-teens, and several Special Awards.

The 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by Visions Federal Credit Union, Cayuga Health, MindWell Center, and GreenStar Food Co+op.

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.

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 info@storyhouseithaca.org. Follow Story House Ithaca on Facebook and Instagram

Celebrate Mental Health!

More than a dozen Tompkins County nonprofits participated in the Mental Health and Wellness Fair on May 7 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons. Thanks to the kind and compassionate souls who are working so hard to support mental health in our community! Gratitude to Josephine Gibson and the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County for hosting this opportunity to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month 2022.

Mental Health Association in Tompkins County


Racker’s message board

Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service

Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York

Tompkins Families

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ithaca & Tompkins County

Village at Ithaca

Lakeview Health Services

The Sophie Fund

Southern Tier AIDS Program

2022 “Make Kindness Go Viral!” Contest

Attention all students in Tompkins County! Do you take kindness for granted? What does kindness mean to you? What does kindness look like?

Help make the world a better place—and go for a prize—by entering the “Make Kindness Go Viral!” contest in January! You can create original artwork, or you can write a short essay, that expresses your own ideas or experiences regarding kindness.

According to the competition guidelines, participants in the artwork competition are invited to submit an original poster or social media graphic, created in any art medium, illustrating kindness.

For the essay competition, participants must submit an original essay of 500 words or less about their “next act of kindness.”

The contest is open to all students. Awards will be presented in separate elementary school, middle school, and high school categories.

The deadline for submissions is January 17, and the awards will be announced at the virtual 2022 United in Kindness Symposium on January 27.

Go to The Sophie Fund to download the Registration Form today!

The contest is sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.