ITHACA, N.Y. — Trained volunteers and counselors answer phone calls from folks having suicidal thoughts or experiencing emotional distress 365 days a year at the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service’s Crisisline in Tompkins County, but the hotline needs additional funding to ensure the phones get answered locally 24 hours a day.

Currently, the local hotline operates 15 hours each day and fields all calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from the 607 area code, which includes nine Southern Tier counties. Outside of that window, local calls are routed to the national phone line. That arrangement is a shift from five years ago, when the local line operated around the clock. Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the SPCS, said cuts to local service have coincided with an increase in local demand.

“It used to be maybe one call a month was really serious where someone truly could not keep themselves safe for the next few hours,” Marvin said. “Now we have about six to eight of those calls in the course of a month. I mean it’s really stepped up and that reflects our higher suicide rates,” she said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.

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The Crisisline will host its seventh annual Dancing for Life fundraiser from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, March 23 at Hotel Ithaca and is seeking 50 sponsors to support restoring 24 hour service.

“We’re looking for 50 people to sign up now as fundraisers to help us reach our goal. Dancers and people who have been touched by suicide are especially encouraged to register now as fundraisers,” SPCS board member Laura Hayman said in a press release. Hayman, an avid swing dancer, said contributors don’t need to be dancers, “but we hope everyone will come to our celebration.”

Marvin said when the center stopped staffing the overnight shift it was with the understanding that late night calls would still be answered by other crisis centers. The move allowed the local center to dedicate more staff to busier evening hours. The arrangement is not ideal, though.

“The reason why we felt we could do the shift was that the 1-800 lifeline system was going to be able to pick up calls, so it isn’t that people were without support. But we feel like we always do better for locals by knowing what the resources are,” Marvin said.

Marvin said the organization is always looking to recruit skilled counselors who can work atypical schedules. Staff and volunteers field about 10 to 15 calls a day, Marvin said, in addition to handling hang-ups and prank calls that might suggest a caller is testing the waters before asking for help. She described the work as urgent and incredibly demanding, but also rewarding.

“A counselor called me the other day to say that a person who’d gotten good support from us had called a week later to say thank you so much for saving my life,” Marvin said.

The Dancing for Life fundraiser will help ensure all callers get the support they need and find help navigating local resources.

Anyone interested in supporting the Crisisline is invited to register as a fundraiser or make a donation by going to and to celebrate at the gala event featuring dance performances, social dancing, refreshments, a silent auction and a cash bar.

The Crisisline can be reached at 607-272-1616. For more information about Dancing for Life, the SPCS can be reached at 607-272-1505.

Featured image: Illustration by Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.