New partnership delivers free, confidential mental health services

Marriage and family therapy student provides therapy at internship site
Free, confidential mental health services available through new Syracuse Community Connections-Syracuse University partnership

A partnership between Syracuse Community Connections and Falk College’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) at Syracuse University is bringing free-of-charge, confidential mental health services to local residents through the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility. Children, teens, seniors, and families accessing other services at this site, as well as the community at large, can now access counseling without costly insurance co-payments or traveling to an unfamiliar location.

“Prior to this arrangement, there were no such services in-house. Without peace of mind, one’s health and performance often suffer,” says Merlin Merrain, MPH, director of health services at Syracuse Community Connections. “Many clients may wait long periods of time or are just apprehensive about talking with someone skilled enough to listen and guide them through the rough waves in life. This partnership will change lives and homes forever.”

Appointments are available weekdays and evenings through the agency, which does business as Syracuse Community Connections, 401 South Avenue, (315) 671-5817. The same confidential mental health services are also available at no cost through Falk College’s Couple and Family Therapy Center at 601 East Genesee Street, (315) 443-3023.

In addition to the newly added in-house mental health services, Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility—a staple of the community—provides HIV awareness, testing, prevention and advocacy; maternal and child care; youth and alternative and after-school programs, and; geriatric services, among other programs.

Based on the same model offered through Falk College’s Couple and Family Therapy Center at Peck Hall, the partnership provides mental health services for those coping with family violence or substance abuse, relationship difficulties, or emotional distress such as anxiety or depression, grief, and loss. Therapy services are provided by graduate students supervised by American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)-approved mental health professionals. “For the Syracuse University students who may pass through our doors, they will garner a true appreciation for working in the Black community, which will help to shape a community of providers that are more culturally competent. This partnership is truly a win-win for all of us,” says Merrain.

Over the past two years, Brandon Hollie G’21, a second-year Ph.D. student in marriage and family therapy, turned his research interest of decreasing violence in urban communities into action. His recently published research that examines gun violence as a symptom of past inter-generationally transmitted injustices focuses on preventing gun and gang violence in the Black community.

“Increased access to treatment in impoverished neighborhoods is one way to reduce violence, and strengthening the bond between individuals and their families could impact prevention and intervention of gun violence,” says Hollie. Prior to having the formal partnership in place, Hollie was counseling clients at the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility. “The sessions are designed to allow people to express themselves without judgement, and leave feeling empowered to make change in their lives and communities,” adds Hollie.

According to Tracey Reichert-Schimpff who is one of the collaborators on the project, the services offered at Syracuse Community Connections benefit both therapists in training as well as community members. Students are able to engage clients in a location that is convenient and familiar, which may mean that more individuals and families will be willing to receive services. In turn, student therapists will gain a deeper understanding of the needs of those impacted by community violence. “Working at this site offers the opportunity to work in a community location and develop relationships with not only clients, but the other programs that are part of the setting. This certainly enhances knowledge and increases sensitivity to and connection with the local community,” says Reichert-Schimpff.

In addition to developing trauma-informed care programs in the community and preparing future practitioners in this area, including a Certificate of Advanced Study in trauma-informed practice, research and practice in the field of trauma is a focal point in Falk College. For more information, visit