Jefferson Award Winner Founded Bridgewatch AngelsBy Sharon Chin

GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (KPIX 5) While sightseers snap photos at the Golden Gate Bridge, a group of volunteers have their sights set elsewhere.

They’re called Bridgewatch Angels, a group of six thousand volunteers, who are trained to prevent suicides. Bridgewatch Angels’ founder is Maria Munayer, better known as Mia.

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They spread across the span for several hours on major holidays. Munayer trains them to reach out to those who look isolated and distressed. They learn the warning signs to look for, and helpful ways to respond.

“We talk to people. We let them know they’re not alone.” said Munayer. “We listen. Sometimes that’s the best response.”

You’ll know the volunteers by their armband. And some know firsthand the pain of losing a loved one to suicide. Dayna Whitmer of the Bridge Rail Foundation worked with Munayer to lobby for the suicide barrier that’s under construction. Whitmer’s son took his life at the bridge.

“For me personally, if I knew somebody was out here watching, maybe my son wouldn’t have jumped,” Whitmer said, praising Munayer. “Being able to organize this shows what a huge heart she has, how caring she is.”

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And after losing a brother and son to suicide, volunteer Debi Griffiths says Munayer gives her a chance to make a difference.

“It is so that no one ever has to spend another day, another holiday, without one of their loved ones,” said Griffiths.

As a Lieutenant with the Pleasanton Police Department, Munayer was training in crisis intervention in 2010 when she watched a documentary about the high number of suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge. Shocked, she decided to do something, and started Bridgewatch Angels in 2011.

She does not know how many lives her volunteer group has saved, but there are many testimonials that keep her going.

“Seeing someone at the end of the event say ‘Hey, just so you know, I came here last year wanting to jump from the bridge and one of your volunteers stopped me,'” Munayer recalled. “And so that’s a remarkable feeling to have at the end of an event.”

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So for leading a life-saving volunteer suicide prevention brigade on the Golden Gate Bridge, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Mia Munayer.