Many of us have lost family members, friends, colleagues or acquaintances to suicide, and there are few feelings worse than thinking that we should have seen it coming and wondering what we might have said or done to prevent it. Some people, by the very nature of their professions, cross paths regularly with the despondent en route to harming themselves, and have thus acquired some useful intervention skills that they can share with others. One such person will be coming to SUNY New Paltz on Tuesday, April 4 to do two free public presentations on suicide prevention. His name is Kevin Briggs, and he saved many lives during his 23 years of working for the California Highway Patrol.
“The Maya Gold Foundation is partnering with ASAP [the Association for Suicide Awareness and Prevention at SUNY New Paltz] to have an event,” explained Sarah Dukler, a new member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. “We’re having Kevin Briggs, a retired San Francisco police officer, whose work territory included the Golden Gate Bridge. He had a lot of experience having to talk people out of jumping off the bridge” — which, according to Foundation co-founder Elise Gold, is “the second-most-popular place in the world where people take their lives.” “Since his retirement, he has gone around the country speaking to people. He gives some measures to take if you see your friend showing signs of wanting to hurt themselves,” Dukler continued.
Such practical tools from someone with Briggs’ track record could prove very valuable to the local law enforcement officers and first responders who are invited to attend the daytime program that begins at 3 p.m. on April 4 in Room 100 of the Student Union Building on the SUNY campus. “They are thrilled to be getting this training,” Gold noted. “I have a very special place in my heart for working with first responders.” But she added that she worried that college students and other local young people might be reluctant to attend an event populated by “an ocean of people in uniforms.” So the organizers decided, “Let’s do two!”
The evening event with Briggs, to be held in Lecture Center 100 from 7 to 9 p.m., will be “more informal,” with a question-and-answer session following his presentation, according to Maya Gold Foundation co-founder Mathew Swerdloff. The organizers hope that one-on-one discussions will continue afterwards in the Lecture Center lobby, where networking tables will be set up by a variety of local social services and mental health agencies and other community organizations.
“This is our first event,” said ASAP organizer Dan Holohan, who has been working with the Foundation’s Community Event Planning Task Force. “We had the idea for the organization last summer… We started in January with about 20 or 30 members.” Another SUNY student active in ASAP, Matthew Nash, said that the impetus to form the new on-campus club had come from the suicide of a mutual friend during the 2015/16 school year. “Afterwards there was a lot of support, but not anything to prevent [suicide] happening in the first place,” Holohan recalled. “We want to impact everyone else on campus, provide information about resources.”
Trying to decide what to offer next in its ongoing series of community education events, the Maya Gold Foundation made contact with ASAP. Together they reached out to the office of the Ulster County Executive and the Ulster County Police Chiefs Association, who will be helping to organize the resource tables at the Lecture Center following Briggs’ evening talk. “They were so openhearted and welcoming, to the SUNY students especially,” Gold enthused. “They were ready to come in and serve… It’s a really beautiful collaboration.” School district representatives countywide have also been invited to participate, she said.
“Everyone will leave inspired and engaged,” Swerdloff promised. “We’re hoping to inspire dialogue in general about these issues of life,” added Foundation board member Noelle Adamo.
Admission is free to “Hope on the Golden Gate Bridge: A Presentation by California Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Briggs” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4 at Lecture Center 100 at SUNY New Paltz, though voluntary donations to the Maya Gold Foundation will be accepted at the door. Refreshments will be provided, and all are invited. This event is partially supported by the SUNY New Paltz Student Association. For more information, visit www.mayagoldfoundation.org/events. To find out more about the Association for Suicide Awareness and Prevention, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.