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

Cupcake Joy, 2023 Edition

Explore a photo gallery from the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest, held in the Commons on October 14, 2023.

Bees Rule! Hudson & Gamay arriving with their masterpiece!

Alecia Sundsmo and fellow bakers receive 2nd Place award

Contest Emcee Amber Robson

Finalist judges brought cookies to give away

Free treats from Via’s Cookies, Case Sera Sera, Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop, and Sinfully Delicious Baking Co.

Trays of cupcakes awaiting the judges

The music of singer songwriter Rachel Beverly

Setting up at the Bernie Milton Pavilion

Kathryn Holloway entering her “Brunch Means a Waffle Lot!” cupcakes

Live, from the Ithaca Commons!

Answer: It means a lot!

And there’s no charge

The beats of Joe Gibson & Dan Collins

DJ Eric Dixon on the media deck

Contestant No. 1: Ana Beltz registering her “Tea in the Garden” cupcakes

Lucy Jiang takes home the 3rd Place award for her “Happy Capybara” cupcakes

Producer Cara Nichols of CRN Events, LLC

Drum roll, please!

SingTrece and Kenneth McLaurin, singing notes and slinging jokes

Statement from The Sophie Fund

Friends of The Sophie Fund have called to our attention that a political rally held at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons on Sunday October 15 featured a speaker expressing exhilaration over the recent atrocities against Israeli citizens. Some viral images from the rally showed the banner of The Sophie Fund affixed across the Pavilion. We would like to make it clear that this banner was for our annual cupcake contest event held the day before, on Saturday October 14. The banner, which had nothing to do with the political rally, was erected on Friday and is due to be taken down this week when workers return and remove it. The Sophie Fund is a nonprofit community mental health advocacy organization in Tompkins County, NY that promotes youth well-being, suicide prevention, anti-bullying, sexual assault prevention, empathy, and kindness, and celebrates the joys of life. We are not a political organization and there was no political content in our cupcake contest, which is held at the Bernie Milton Pavilion every October. Supporting and attending our event on Saturday were nine local mental health organizations and five Cornell University student organizations. The contest raised funds for an Ithaca mental health clinic serving families and children. We were not informed that a political rally would take place at the Pavilion on the following day and deeply regret any mistaken association with it due to the unrelated juxtaposition of the banner. The Sophie Fund condemns the murder of Israeli civilians as well as the repugnant remarks made at the Sunday rally.

Scene from 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest, October 14, 2023

Ithaca Cupcakes 2023: Special Awards

Contestants in the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest on October 14 brought forth their chefs-d’œuvre—so many masterpieces for the judges to view and taste. Congratulations to these winners of Special Awards!

Fairy’s Favorite Award

Ana Beltz

Best Farm to Table Award

Aušra Milano

Profound Pastry Award

Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service

Most Dramatic Award

Tabitha Gray

Snakes on a Plate Award

Rebecca Gray

Dessert for Breakfast Award

Kathryn Holloway

Best Special Effects Award

Anisa Pepinsky

Queen Bee Award

Hudson & Gamay

Most Savory Award

Nilka Joaquin

Most Mouthwatering Award

Isabel Perkins

Funkiest Fungi

Lily Lowder

Campfire Paradise Award

Ashley Rorick

Monkey Madness Award

Jessica Cullen

Ithaca Is Icing Award

Heather Lee

Perfect Presentation Award

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker

Literary Genius of Cupcakes Award

Siena Drumluk

Absolutely Artistic Award

Michael Herceg

Big Top Award

Chiara Miller-Out

The Whole Package Award

Eleni Casseri

Ana Beltz’s entry: “Tea in the Garden” Earl Grey-infused, gluten-free cupcakes with a honey glaze and lavender buttercream frosting.

Aušra Milano’s entry: “Indian Creek Farms Orchard” blackberry cupcakes with browned butter and cream cheese frosting.

Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service’s entry: “You Matter” banana cupcakes with browned butter and cream cheese frosting.

Tabitha Gray’s entry: French vanilla and grapefruit soda cupcakes with raspberry filling and green buttercream frosting inspired by the Little Shop of Horrors.

Rebecca Gray’s entry: German chocolate cupcakes with snake-shaped apricot center and pecan coconut frosting.

Kathryn Holloway’s entry: “Brunch Means a Waffle Lot!” gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with homemade chocolate hazelnut filling topped with white chocolate ganache frosting, a mini chocolate chip waffle, and a strawberry half.

Anisa Pepinsky’s entry: “Death by Red Velvet” cupcakes with cream cheese frosting topped with Halloween decorations.

Gamay and Hudson’s entry: “Bees Rule” vanilla honey cupcakes with bee-themed yellow and black striped frosting.

Nilka Joaquin’s entry: Warm, crisp, autumn comfort cupcakes with the sweetness of maple and classic pumpkin and the savory taste of bacon and salted caramel crowned with mini pretzels.

Isabel Perkins’s entry: Köstliche Schokolade German chocolate cupcakes topped with coconut-pecan frosting drawn from a family baking tradition passed from generation to generation.

Lily Lowder’s entry: Forest-inspired carrot cupcakes loaded with nuts, coconut, and pineapple, topped with a hedgehog and mushrooms.

Ashley Rorick’s entry: “S’mores Cupcakes” with sweet marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate cake.

Jessica Cullen’s entry: “Ithaca Is Bananas” spiced banana cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and walnuts inspired by the Moosewood restaurant desserts.

Heather Lee’s entry: “Bee Kind” chocolate cupcakes swirled with marshmallows and chocolate chip cookie center, decorated as flowers with buttercream frosting accented with bees.

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker’s entry: “Orange You Glad I Baked” chocolate mayonnaise cakes with orange curd topped with chocolate meringue buttercream frosting.

Siena Drumluk’s entry: “My Magical Dream” blueberry cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting inspired by the Percy Jackson books featuring the powers of a teenage demigod.

Michael Herceg’s entry: “Grandmother’s Neapolitan” family-tradition chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with strawberry cream frosting.

Chiara Miller-Out’s entry: “Circus Sundae” cupcakes with marble cake fudge filling and Chantilly cream clown decoration and a big ol’ maraschino cherry nose.

Eleni Casseri’s entry: “London Fog” Earl Grey, vanilla, and honey cakes topped with lavender and vanilla frosting, in honor of Yiannis.

Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2023

Megan Martinez won 1st Place with her “Berry Passionate Cupcakes” in the 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund on October 14.

It was the second year in a row that Martinez took the top honor. Her vanilla cupcakes were filled with passion fruit curd and decorated with white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, homemade raspberry jam, and white chocolate leaves.

Megan Martinez’s award-winning “Berry Passionate Cupcakes”

“Passion fruit is my favorite flavor,” said Martinez, explaining her entry this year.

“I loved it as a kid and now, when I visit my in-laws in the Dominican Republic, I get to have jugo de Chinola, passion fruit juice, made from fresh passion fruit. I find every excuse to put this flavor into my baking because I think it is a beautiful flavor like no other, and shines in everything.”

1st Place Awardee Megan Martinez

The judges awarded Alecia Sundsmo 2nd Place for her “Inclusivity = Prevention Cupcakes.” The orange cupcakes with rainbow layers and chocolate icing were made in the pattern of the inclusivity rainbow representing the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, Sundsmo explained.

“When thinking about this contest and suicide prevention, I thought about the role that inclusivity plays,” she added. “Our black, brown, and queer community members experience higher rates of suicidality because they are made to feel excluded. Let’s change that!”

Alecia Sundsmo’s “Inclusivity = Prevention Cupcakes”

Lucy Jiang captured the 3rd Place award with her “Happy Capybara Cupcakes,” chocolate orange flavored cakes depicting the cuddly rodents swimming in hot springs with bobbing oranges.

She explained that during an arts and crafts activity at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art recently she created a capybara-shaped mosaic inspired by the work of Peruvian artist Celia Vasquez Yui. “I’ve always wanted to create a capybara-themed dessert, and this was my chance!” she added.

Lucy Jiang’s “Happy Capybara Cupcakes”

Josie Bower received the Youth Award for her “14-Carrot Cupcakes,” consisting of carrot cake topped with pineapple cream cheese frosting and delicate sugar swirls.

She said that the cupcakes are modeled after a cake that is a family tradition she carries on from her mother and grandmother. “We eat this cake on our birthdays,” she added. “I have made this cake with my mom many times.”

Josie Bower’s “14-Carrot Cupcakes”

Twenty-three bakers entered the contest this year, displaying a range of themes including: bumblebees, the pleasures of Indian Creek Farm, the Little Shop of Horrors, enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea, scary Halloween scenes, circus clowns, summer campfires, Moosewood’s desserts, Hellman’s mayonnaise, sweet memories of grandparents, magical dreams, kindness, and suicide awareness.

Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s 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; and Via Carpenter of Via’s Cookies.

The 8th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons was sponsored by Visions Federal Credit Union, Cayuga Health, and Maguire. All awardees received Downtown Ithaca Alliance gift cards accepted by more than 100 local shops and restaurants. The History Center in Tompkins County generously provided space for the contest registration and awards ceremony. The contest was produced by Cara Nichols of CRN Events.

Volunteers from student organizations at Cornell University supported the contest: Cornell Circle K, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Toward Careers in Health), Phi Sigma Pi, Alpha Phi Omega, and Cornell Minds Matter.

Also participating in the day-long event were organizations advancing mental health in the greater Ithaca community. They included: Be Kind Ithaca; Free Hugs Ithaca; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Central New York; Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes; Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca; Health & Unity for Greg; Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, and Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

The Awards Ceremony was hosted by Amber Robson, and featured live musical performances by SingTrece & Kenneth McLaurin, Joe Gibson & Dan Collins, and Rachel Beverly. DJ Eric Dixon was on the turntable.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University fine arts 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, Sophie was on a medical leave of absence from Cornell and active in Ithaca’s culinary scene.

1st Place and Grand Prize ($250): Megan Martinez

2nd Place ($100): Alecia Sundsmo

3rd Place ($50): Lucy Jiang

Youth Award ($100): Josie Bower