Jamie Tworkowski explains the message and evolution of TWLOHA to the crowd. (Adam Jones)
Jamie Tworkowski had no idea five years ago that he was going to be a part of global message to spread hope to those in dire straits. Last Wednesday, he made an appearance at Saddleback College to tell his story.
“What is this TWLOHA thing anyway?” asked a Saddleback student as he wandered past the crowd gathered in the Quad last Wednesday as classes got out at 7 p.m.
To Write Love on Her Arms, founded by Tworkowski, is a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people who are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
Originally started as a way to raise funds for his struggling friend Renee, TWLOHA is now a global organization that has responded to over 160,000 people in the past four years.
The event opened with guitarist Steven McMorran of the band Satellite playing a five-song set.
“To Write Love approached Satellite with an idea for making a T-shirt out of one of the lyrics in ‘Ring the Bells.’ The lyric was ‘at least we live tonight’. I found out that Jamie wrote a blog about the song, and it was all really moving,” McMorran said. “It’s a really humbling thing when you see people respond to [the music] in ways that communicate that it has helped them out. It’s a special thing.”
After McMorran’s set, Tworkowski took the stage and shared the story of his past, and how his life lead into TWLOHA.
“It was January 2006, and I was sitting in a meeting at Hurley headquarters,” Tworkowski said. The meeting was interrupted by Bob Hurley, who shared some dire news. Zeke Sanders, a friend of Tworkowski’s, had committed suicide.
This was Tworkowski’s first major encounter with suicide, and he soon began to think of ways to bring awareness to and honor his friend’s life and death.
“I used this phrase suicide prevention,” Tworkowski said. “And my friend basically stopped me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t think that exists. I don’t think that’s possible.'”
A month later, Tworkowski met Renee.
“I remember seeing Renee for the first time. I remember in that first moment being aware not only that there were drugs in her system, but maybe just having a sense of the weight of this place and her life,” he said.
David, a friend of Tworkowski’s, gave a message of hope and recovery to Renee that night, with Tworkowski and some of their friends echoing the message. Later that night, Renee’s other friends discredited the hopeful message, furthering her depression.
That night, Renee took a razor blade and wrote “fuck up” across her forearm.
“To Write Love on Her Arms, more than anything, was a goal. If the words she had written on her body with a razor blade was about identity, then this goal was also about identity,” Tworkowski said. “It was about the idea of believing a better life was possible for our friend, and believing she deserved that better life.”
This, essentially, was the beginning of TWLOHA. The effort started when Tworkowski and his friends began to raise money for Renee’s treatment and recovery. They designed T-shirts, and the first box of their message on fabric made it’s way to a Switchfoot concert in Florida.
Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot, saw the shirts and requested to wear one on stage. Tworkowski obliged the request, and in the middle of the band’s set, Foreman gave a brief one-line plug about TWLOHA.
From there, the message spread, and the organization formed. Other bands that Tworkowski knew plugged the message, and soon thousands of messages were pouring in regarding from people who needed help, who knew people who needed help, who were thankful, or who wanted to help.
“We learned that these messages came in from almost 100 different countries,” Tworkowski said. “We learned that maybe this is not an American conversation, a white people conversation, an emo conversation, maybe this is stuff that affects people all over the world.”