VICTORY OVER VIOLENCE: Free mental health services through new partnership

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Getting help through difficult times is not always easy, especially when it involves violence, trauma and mental health.  

A new partnership between Syracuse Community Connections and Falk College at Syracuse University is now offering free and confidential mental health services.

The program is helping people work through trauma and empowering people to make a change in their lives and their communities.

“People are trying to make a change and make an impact, but there is a lot of violence and I think it’s due to inter-generational trauma and poverty,” said Brandon Hollie, a second-year Ph.D. student in marriage and family therapy at Falk College who turned his research interest of decreasing violence in urban communities into action.

Early on, Hollie noticed that people of color weren’t taking advantage of the school’s free training clinic.

“There’s a lot of stigma around therapy in the black and Latino communities and I think if those people are going to seek therapeutic services, they want the people to look like them,” Hollie said.

In a community where trauma is directly linked to violence and poverty, those counseling services are key.  It’s something Hollie knows all too well after losing people he loved to violence in the streets.

“The grief, people don’t understand that. You grieve a lot harder when you lose someone to homicide and the way people of color grieve isn’t considered traditional,” Hollie said.

That’s what led him to the Southwest Community Center to help develop a free counseling program in partnership with the center and Falk College, where people could come, talk and heal.  

Merlin Merrain is the center’s director of health services and works tirelessly with Hollie to help improve mental health in the community by strengthening the family unit.

“We had one young mother who came through the door and needed support and brought the entire family, so we are really bringing healing to the home,” Merrain said. “It’s important that individuals be able to trust us here at the center because we are like the staple of the community.”

Since the program started in December, Hollie has treated young and old, from different backgrounds, who choose to come to this safe space to reshape their minds and create generational hope.

“Just being able to come in and talk and be heard and be validated and have someone empathize with you, they leave feeling refreshed as though they can make a change in the world,” Hollie said.

The new mental health services are provided by Falk College graduate students supervised by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)-approved mental health professionals at the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility. Appointments are available weekdays and evenings and can be made by calling (315) 671-5817 or (315) 671-5835 or visit

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