Nonprofit, Musician Help Spread Message of Hope at Florida Southern
Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, a nonprofit organization that aims to help those struggling with depression, addresses Florida Southern College students and members of the community.
About 300 Florida Southern College students and members of the community gathered at Branscomb Auditorium on Wednesday evening to hear a message of hope from the leader of a major nonprofit.
After listening to several songs played by Dustin Kensrue, singer and guitarist with the California-based band Thrice, the audience settled in to hear the story of To Write Love on Her Arms.
Founder Jamie Tworkowski began TWLOHA, a nonprofit organization, in 2006 after years of feeling unfulfilled by his well-paying job as a sales representative for clothing company Hurley. Despite a six-figure salary, Tworkowski felt he was really meant for work that would help people – not provide them with neat T-shirts.
"It just felt hollow. A lot of it felt empty," Tworkowski said.
In 2006, Tworkowski was disturbed by the suicide of a friend and co-worker and by an incident involving a friend named Renee.
Tworkowski and several friends staged an intervention of sorts one night in Orlando, encouraging Renee to separate herself from a group of people that encouraged her to drink and do drugs. They pleaded with her to enter drug rehabilitation and find a healthier path.
Renee responded by saying she needed one more night to think about such a life change and Tworkowski and the other friends agreed, leaving her alone at the apartment where she was staying.
The next morning, Tworkowski learned that Renee, after using drugs and drinking during the night, had become so upset that she took a razorblade and etched an expletive into her arm.
"If you met Renee and talked about that night, the conversation would be about identity," he said. "How stuck she felt and the level of regret she had at that moment."
The drug rehabilitation center Renee was to enter would not admit her for five days, giving the open would time to heal.
Renee spent those days with Tworkowski and their group of friends. Inspired by what he'd experienced and the desperation he'd seen in Renee, Tworkowski asked if he could share her story publicly. Renee agreed because she wanted there to be a purpose for what had happened.
So Tworkowski wrote Renee's story, sent it out as an e-mail, printed T-shirts that soon were popular among bands such as Switchfoot, Anberlin and Paramore, and created a MySpace page. Soon he was fielding hundreds of messages from the public about similar struggles with depression and addiction, and he was receiving donations to help those in need.
Within three years, TWLOHA had the largest online audience of any nonprofit on MySpace and Facebook, with more than 700,000 followers. It has responded to 200,000 e-mails and messages and later this year it expects to reach $1 million raised for treatment and recovery programs. As for Renee, she is now healthy and continues in her recovery.
As part of its outreach, TWLOHA travels the country, spreading the message on college campuses that no one is alone during their darkest hours.
"I believe this is a conversation that's incredibly hopeful and we want to share that hope."
Joining Tworkowski on the Branscomb stage was Aaron Moore, a licensed mental health counselor with TWLOHA. He asked the audience why someone might not want to tell others about depression or addiction. The answers included not wanting to admit weakness and shame.
Moore encouraged the audience to put aside such fears should they feel they need help.
"Maybe we can't get healthy until we talk about it. Without our stories, we can't get help or offer hope," he said.