Keuka College awarded $625K for Community Mental Health Project

Kevin Frisch, Keuka College

The college will work with local public health partners to train a wave of mental health facilitators

Keuka College will receive $125,000 a year for five years from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to lead a venture known as the FLOURISH Network to train hundreds of area participants to recognize and respond to mental health needs among teens and young adults.

KEUKA PARK — When it comes to mental health and wellness in New York State and Yates County, not enough young people are flourishing.

Keuka College is setting out to change that – and it has secured a $625,000 federal grant to help it succeed.

The college will receive $125,000 a year for five years from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to lead an ambitious, community-wide venture known as the FLOURISH Network. The program, which will operate within the College’s new School of Health and Human Services, will result in hundreds of area participants being trained to recognize and respond to mental health needs among teens and young adults.

“Keuka College strives to place student success at the center of everything we do,” said College President Amy Storey. “That means providing support academically, physically, and emotionally. The FLOURISH Network will support not only our College’s students but youth throughout the region.”

Finger Lakes Outreach: Underserved Rural Integrated School/Behavioral Health Network (or, the FLOURISH Network) will see the College collaborate with public-facing community organizations whose members will undergo a variety of mental health and wellness initiatives including Mental Health First Aid training.

“This grant will allow Keuka College to provide critical resources to the community, including free mental health awareness training,” said Project Director Dr. Carrie Roberts, Keuka College’s assistant vice president for strategic initiatives.

Dr. Carrie Roberts

Partners include the Penn Yan and Prattsburgh school districts, Yates County Social Services, Lakeview Health Services, the Finger Lakes Community Health Center, the Finger Lakes Area Counseling and Recovery Agency, the Yates County Sheriff’s Department, and area police and fire departments. There was a tight turnaround for the grant submission and, while Dundee Central School wasn't able to respond in time to be named a formal partner, they will still be able to take part in the training.

“It’s important to make mental health and wellness information more accessible and familiar in the community, just like CPR and First Aid training,” said Assistant Professor of Social Work Dr. Philip Miller, who will manage clinical aspects of the project. “Mental health challenges affect young people of all backgrounds and in all corners of the county, so we need as many partners as possible on board.”

The training will be broad: more than 750 individuals ranging from police officers to school bus drivers to health care professionals to College instructors and students. The goal is to improve mental health literacy and referral pathways to health services for county residents.

That support has become even more necessary as the coronavirus pandemic stretches into its third academic year. The illness or even loss of family and friends, extended periods of social distancing and remote instruction, increased financial hardship, the cancellation of annual events and rites of passage – all have made it more difficult for adults, especially young adults and teens, to maintain connections, balance, and positive mental health.

Those challenges aren’t lost on students themselves.

“As college students, we can see the impact mental health has not only had on the community but our lives as well,” said Occupational Therapy graduate student Lizzy Lafferty ’22, who discussed the initiative with fellow OT grad students Molly Durkin ’22 and Tina Mendes ’22.

“By providing education both in the community and on campus, we can spread awareness and encourage others to be more open about their mental health and seek appropriate services,” said Molly.

“Exactly,” added Tina. “This grant will fund the education and training needed to support and serve our community.”