Friend of MHA Award for The Sophie Fund

The Sophie Fund has received the 2023 Friend of the Mental Health Association Award from the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS). The honor was presented to Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, at the organization’s Annual Awards Dinner in Albany on October 23.

Josephine Gibson, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County (MHATC), nominated The Sophie Fund for the award for its “unwavering commitment to our community’s mental health and supporting the mission of the Mental Health Association.”

She described The Sophie Fund as an “ally” and “fast friend” which “has made a major impact on our reach and ability to provide quality mental health education and support services to community members.”

Gibson said that The Sophie Fund enabled her organization to host book talks with authors who write about mental health, provide free Mental Health First Aid trainings to workers in the hospitality industry and staff and students at Tompkins Cortland Community College, hire a paid intern to engage in advocacy work at Cornell University, and educate the community at large.

Just recently, she added, The Sophie Fund collaborated with the Mental Health Association to organize a youth art show to culminate National Bullying Prevention Month.

Gibson also cited The Sophie Fund’s leadership in various community initiatives, such as the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force. She said The Sophie Fund worked with her organization to help ensure that the voices of its peer specialists were included in such initiatives.

The Sophie Fund was established as a community advocacy organization by MacLeod and his wife Susan Hack in memory of their daughter Sophie, a Cornell University student who died by suicide in Ithaca in 2016. The organization supports mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca area.

Accepting the award, MacLeod said that The Sophie Fund was humbled by the recognition but focused credit on service organizations like the Mental Health Association for providing face to face, day to day support to those in need.

Scott MacLeod, speaking at the MHANYS Annual Awards Dinner

“We thank Josephine Gibson and her incredibly devoted and experienced team at the Mental Health Association for nominating The Sophie Fund ,” MacLeod said. “We thank them for the essential work they do to support mental health in our community. We feel extremely privileged and honored for the opportunity to work together in this mission.”

The MHANYS awards dinner was hosted by Executive Director Glenn Liebman and attended by more than 100 people, including New York State Mental Health Commissioner Ann Marie Sullivan and Patricia Fahy, chair of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education.

Ann Marie Sullivan and Glenn Liebman

Patricia Fahy, speaking at the MHANYS Annual Awards Dinner

MHANYS, an affiliate of Mental Health America, was incorporated in 1960 and has 26 affiliates in 50 counties throughout New York State. Its mission is to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities by raising mental health awareness, ending stigma and discrimination, and promoting wellness and recovery.

Note from MHANYS about the bell that adorns its awards:

During the early days of mental health treatment, asylums often restrained persons with mental illnesses with iron chains and shackles around their ankles and wrists. Clifford Beers, the founder of the Mental Health Association movement, experienced and witnessed many of these and other abuses. After his own recovery, he became a leading figure in the movement to reform the treatment of, and attitudes toward, mental illness. With better understanding and treatments, cruel practices eventually stopped.

In the early 1950s, in the lobby of the national headquarters in New York City, the Mental Health Association collected discarded chains and shackles from asylums across the country. All of these restraints were then shipped to the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore where they were dropped into a crucible and cast into a 300 pound bell with the inscription “Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.”

Photo credits: MHANYS

Saluting Mental Health Heroes

Mental health leaders in Tompkins County highlighted available community services and underlined the importance of supporting the well-being of mental health workers during the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest.

The organizations participating included: Be Kind Ithaca; Free Hugs Ithaca; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes; Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca; Health and Unity for Greg; and Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, and Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

Kayla and Michelle Eells of Health and Unity for Greg

Alecia Sundsmo, director of Clinical Services at Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, said that her agency provides mental health care across the age spectrum regardless of ability to pay.

“One of the amazing things about Family and Children’s is that we can really provide mental health care from our zero-to-five program all the way up to our geriatric mental health program,” she said. “Somebody is never turned away. We know that equity across access to healthcare is so critical to making sure that people have the care that they need in the community where they live and work.”

Sundsmo also noted the agency’s outreach programs “to make sure that we reach folks who might have some additional stigma or barriers to seeking access to care. We go out and help them and find them and make sure that we can provide social supports in the community.” She said that the outreach includes community education programs and extends to supporting mental health in local businesses through their Employee Assistance Programs.

Michelle Eells of Health & United for Greg thanked Family & Children’s for establishing the Greg Eells Memorial Fund in honor of her husband, who died by suicide in 2019. Greg Eells was a veteran psychologist and active member of the Family & Children’s board.

“The fund helps provide wellness support and education to the Family and Children’s Service clinicians and staff,” Eells explained. “As mental health providers and caregivers who care vehemently for others and take it all in, they also need to be supported and make a priority to care for themselves.”

The Greg Eells Memorial Fund is the recipient of the 2023 Cupcake Button fundraising campaign organized by The Sophie Fund, which collects donations every year to support a local mental health nonprofit.

Lovisa Johanson of Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

Samantha Shoemaker of Free Hugs Ithaca and Darrell Harrington of Be Kind Ithaca

Olivia Duell of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County

Brandi Remington of the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force

Skip Knoll and Virginia Cook of The Sophie Fund

Stacy Ayres and Crystal Howser of AFSP Greater Central New York

Kathy Taylor and Sandra Sorensen of NAMI Finger Lakes

How I See Myself

Calling all young artists! The Mental Health Association in Tompkins County is inviting youth aged 5-21 to create self-portraits for an art exhibition beginning October 23. The deadline for submissions is October 9.

The exhibition, “How I See Myself: Self Portraits of Youth and Young Adults,” will take place from October 23 to November 3 at the organization’s Outreach Center in Center Ithaca on the Ithaca Commons. A reception will be held to celebrate the artworks on Gallery Night November 3.

Click HERE to learn more and access the Submission Form

The exhibition is part of the United in Kindness series of events in October coordinated by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force to mark National Bullying Prevention Month. The exhibition is made possible in part by a grant from The Sophie Fund.

“Bullying can affect the way we see ourselves, and art can be a healing and a powerful way of communicating those feelings,” the organizer said. “Our mission for this exhibit is to send the message that we are not alone, that bullying prevention matters, and that we each have a powerful voice to contribute.”

To participate in the exhibition, artists must submit one piece of art in any style or medium including video pieces of five minutes or less. All works must originate with the artist submitting them. No copyrighted materials may be submitted for this exhibition.

Each piece must not exceed 24 inches in height, width, or depth. All artwork must be ready to hang. Framed or matted, it must have wire across the back by which to be hung. Sculptures must be stable and able to stand on their own (24 inches or less in diameter).

Participants are asked to write a brief statement about their artworks, about the medium being used, feelings about their piece, what they liked about making a self portrait, or anything that would help the viewer understand more about the work.

Thank You, Mental Health Heroes!

Leaders of the mental health community spread messages of support and hope during the 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest.

Darrell Harrington, of Be Kind Ithaca, shared a personal story of getting help for crippling anxiety, and how it led him to create the bright red “Be Kind” hearts that adorn lawns and porches throughout Ithaca and beyond.

“I wouldn’t be here right now, or got to be on this amazing journey with Be Kind, if I hadn’t gained control of my anxiety,” said Harrington, crediting his wife and a close friend and band mate for guiding him into therapy.

 “If you are suffering, please talk to someone. I know it’s hard. It’s extremely hard. But there is help out there. There’s some amazing people that want to help you. It’s those nine out of ten people that will help you, and take care of you, and make you feel better, and enjoy your life like I am today.”

Kathy Taylor, of the Finger Lakes affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), related how a child’s mental illness turned her family’s world “upside down and inside out.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes

“We thought we could fix his problem through love and support,” she said. “But it wasn’t enough. I had heard about NAMI. It really took a lot of courage to make that phone call and admit we couldn’t fix the problem ourselves.”

Taylor and her husband joined a 12-week NAMI class called Family to Family. “These people were non-judgmental and they helped us so much,” she recalled. “We learned a common language so we could talk to each other about mental illness in a more educated way and understand what our son was going through.

Crystal Howser, of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Central New York, said everyone has a role to play in protecting mental health.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

“Together, we can make a difference,” said Howser, one of the Ithaca area’s most relentless suicide prevention advocates. “We can let others know they are not alone. Together, we are strong, together we are making a difference. Suicide is preventable and suicide prevention begins with all of us.”

Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service

Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

Advocacy Center of Tompkins County

Be Kind Ithaca

The Sophie Fund

Learning Skills for Better Mental Health

Community members came together at The History Center in Tompkins County on July 9 to be trained in ways to help others who may be experiencing a mental health problem or crisis.

Mental Health First Aid training

Melanie Little, director of Education at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, led the trainees through an eight-hour course in Mental Health First Aid, a program offered throughout the world that teaches everyday people the skills to support family members, friends, or others with mental health issues.

The 16 trainees were taught how to connect people to appropriate resources, that there is no-one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, and about the vital role that culture plays in how people understand and recover from mental health problems. 

According to Little, ongoing research provides evidence that the trainings improve people’s understanding of mental health and help combat the stigma that persists in society around these issues.

“County residents from a wide variety of backgrounds came together to learn and improve their confidence in providing support for the people in their lives,” Little said. “While learning about recognizing and responding to mental health concerns, trainees came together in lively conversation, bringing up real-life situations and learning from each others’ experiences.”

The training was supported by The History Center, which provided space for the training, and by a grant from The Sophie Fund at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County.

The Mental Health Association has trained 113 people in Mental Health First Aid so far in 2022, with more courses planned for the rest of the year.

For more information or to inquire about receiving training in Mental Health First Aid, contact Melanie Little, director of Education at the Mental Health Association: or (607) 273 9250.