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Sondra J. Fox Scholarship Fund to support aspiring mental health professionals

Tue, Aug 30th 2022 09:00 am

Sondra Fox has had a long career of helping patients and clients and advocating for change in the mental health field.

The recently established Sondra J. Fox Scholarship Fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is in large part a continuation of Fox’s dedication to advocacy and direct support of the mental health system.

Friends and family worked to establish the Sondra J. Fox Scholarship Fund at CRCF to support an annual scholarship award of $2,000 for a student from Cattaraugus County who is pursuing a career in the mental health field with first preference for a student in a master’s level program and second preference for an undergraduate college student entering his or her junior or senior year studying a mental health-related field such as counseling, social work or psychiatric nursing.

To that end, she continues to serve of the Cattaraugus County Board of Health and the board of the county’s Department of Community Services.

The hope, Fox said, is to help foster the future career of mental health professionals to service a stressed mental health system.

“If we are to effect changes in the mental health system, it will be necessary for clinicians to not only be experts in their field,” she said, “but also to be aware of changes in mental health laws that will be detrimental to the chronically mentally ill.”

One of those professionals who tried to effect changes in the system during her career was Fox.

Fox was fortunate enough to receive several scholarships to the Keuka College nursing program. After graduation she went on to work for the Maryland Health Department. In that capacity she had the responsibility of developing programs to support patients and their families upon discharge from inpatient treatment.

During that time, Fox worked at the only all-black hospital in the state during the transition to integration.

After one year of experience, she was awarded a scholarship from the National Institute of Mental Health to enter the University of Maryland master’s program for psychiatric nursing.

Upon completing that degree program, she and her family returned to the Olean area.

That began Fox’s long career working in mental health in Cattaraugus County, where she was employed by the Cattaraugus County Mental Health Department to develop a day treatment program and other services for the mentally ill.

Fox founded The Guidepost (now Foundations for Change, a service of the Cattaraugus County Department of Community Services) and served as director.

The programs and services that Fox established have now been a stable resource in the region for over 50 years.

It was not a career without its challenges, though, Fox said.

“I have done a lot of fighting for this cause [during my career] because we needed resources for our clients, and we weren’t getting them,” said Fox. “We were not always successful, and many of those issues continue and the need remains great.”

“For example, we had not changed the number of psychiatric beds available in the United States from 1850 to 1988,” she added. “It really is extraordinary [the need for services] when you begin to look into it.”

During her career, Fox had a significant impact on those she worked with, including a former intern Ruth Palmquist, who would years later go on to take over Fox’s position leading The Guidepost.

“I consider Sondra a mentor and a friend,” she said. “It is only fitting that a scholarship should be established in her name to assist others in carrying on what has been her life-long work.”

Scholarships played a large part in Palmquist’s career as well, as her internship position under Fox was funded in part by the Mental Health Association in Cattaraugus County. That financial support, she said, allowed her stay in the area and learn under a seasoned professional.

The hope, indicated Fox and Palmquist, is that the Sondra J. Fox Scholarship can play a similar role in enabling future clinicians and professionals to remain in the area to be a part in bringing change to the mental health system.

“We all know that here remains a great need in mental health care in our community and in the system nationwide,” said CRCF Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit. “We are pleased to play a small role in carrying on Sondra Fox’s legacy in effecting change in mental health to close the gap in unmet needs.”

Donations can be made to the Sondra J. Fox Scholarship Fund at CRCF, 301 North Union St., Suite 203 or online at cattfoundation.org.

The Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is the area’s supportive, responsive and trusted community foundation. Established in 1994, CRCF is growing good by connecting donors to the causes they care about most in the region. Grants from the foundation support many areas, including education, scholarships, health care, the arts, community development, human service, and youth development. To learn more, call (716) 301-CRCF (2723), email [email protected], or visit online at www.cattfoundation.org. CRCF is also on Facebook (facebook.com/cattfoundation) and Twitter (@CattFoundation).