By Jamie Swinnerton
Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.
This week we are highlighting the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service. To learn more about the organization, we asked Executive Director Lee-Ellen Marvin about it.
Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
Lee-Ellen Marvin: “The mission of Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service is to promote constructive responses to crisis and trauma, and to prevent suicide and violence to self and others through direct support and community education. SPCS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, a United Way Agency, and a regional member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” Marvin said.
The organization was started in the 1960s by Reverend Jack Lewis at Cornell University after several people at he school had died by suicide and students asked the chaplain for help. He started with a single phone in his office designated for people with suicidal thoughts to call.
“In the first year that it operated they waited for three weeks and when the phone finally rang he was so nervous he said ‘Where are you? I’ll come to you,’” Marvin said. “It was like it was hard to trust the telephone as a medium as a way to help people. But, eventually the calls started rolling in.”
TW: How do you fulfill that mission?L-EM:“Three primary programs: the Crisisline which takes calls from people in emotional distress or struggling with suicide thoughts; the After-Trauma Service, which provide free, face-to-face counseling to Tompkins County residents; the Education program, offering training in suicide awareness and prevention,” Marvin said.
After-Trauma services are staffed by licensed and certified social worker Sheila McCue.
“She provides face-to-face counseling for Tompkins County residents who have experienced a trauma,” Marvin said. “This started to support people who had lost a loved one by suicide, which is a very particular and challenging form of grief. But, we’ve expanded in the last few years to work with anyone with a trauma, either current or past, so that they can get their feet on the ground.”
Part of what people learn in After-Trauma services, Marvin said, are basic skills and tools to deal with their trauma, and develop a roadmap to recovery, and if needed to help people find permanent long-time counselors.
“The Crisisline can be reached locally at 607-272-1616 or through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Other services can be reached through our offices at 607-272-1505.”
TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
L-EM: “Letting people know that we are here and available for them,” Marvin said. “Some people are reluctant to call because they think they must be thinking about suicide.”
The Crisisline is not just for people experiencing suicidal thoughts, Marvin said. It can also be for people who want to learn how to help their friends and loved one’s deal with depression and suicidal thoughts, people going through sudden life changes such as a break up or being fired, or for people who are just lonely. It’s a place for people to talk about what they are going through in a safe space, no appointment needed.
“We also depend on volunteers, and are always looking for people to train and add to our team,” Marvin said.
Several times a year Marvin and her colleagues help train new volunteers. The process takes several weeks and meets twice a week, along with one weekend long training session, and the organization asks that volunteers commit to at least a year of volunteering. Marvin said they are hoping to do one of these trainings in March but don’t know yet if there will be enough people signed up. Usually a training is also held in October.
TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
“Our services are free and confidential,” Marvin said. “If someone is struggling with a mental health challenge or emotionally difficult experiences, the Crisisline provides empathetic listening and collaborative problem solving.”
TW: How can people best support your mission?
L-EM: “By volunteering or by supporting us during our upcoming annual fundraiser, Dancing for Life. Go to IthacaCrisis.org to learn more.”
Dancing for Life will take place on April 14. Donations go to help support the Crisisline.