Crossing the Pell Bridge for hope


When he was 21 years old, Bryan Ganley's best friend committed suicide.

"He had called me to talk and said he wanted to kill himself," Mr. Ganley recalled. "I told him not to talk like that. I was busy so I said that I'd call him back. It was the absolute wrong thing to say to someone in that state. He actually died that night."

Because of that experience, the Bristol resident became active with the Samaritans of Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention. Founded in 1977, the Samaritans operate a crisis hotline where despondent callers can phone-in for counseling and resources. Signs for the Samaritans are typically found at the top of a bridge, like the Mt. Hope Bridge.

Volunteers with the organization have historically remained anonymous. However, federal and state budget cuts have hurt the organization, and created a need for an alternate funding source. The organization has created a team in the Pell Bridge Run 2013 on Nov 10: Cross the Bridge for Hope. The event enables crowd funding, generating dollars for the Samaritans' use. Mr. Ganley serves as team co-captain along with MaryAnn Donato.

"Through crowd funding individuals, family members, friends and employers can go online from their phones or computers and support team members who are racing," said Denise Panichas, executive director of the Samaritans RI. "Crowd funding also makes it easier to race and walk in honor or memory of a loved one or friend.”

Calls to the Samaritans RI hotline has declined by 1,639 calls from 2011 to 2012. However, that doesn't necessarily mean there are less callers, Ms. Panichas said. There has been a decrease by about 808 volunteer hours, as well as the office relocating from Providence to Pawtucket.

"The difference in calls resulted from temporary closing down the lines during the move, attrition of volunteers and rebuilding our hotline call center options," Ms. Panichas said. "Without question, the hotline is only as effective as the availability of volunteers to keep the lines open for befriending. Our ability to recruit and support volunteers is also tied to the availability of funding for staff."

Running the Pell Bridge event not only raises awareness about suicide prevention, but will hopefully generate interest in the organization, Mr. Ganley said.

"We're someone in between you and that step," Bryan said. "We're that one moment of doubt, can you really go through with this? Does anyone care? We do."

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