TWLOHA Director Spreads Mental Health Awareness

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To Write Love On Her Arms:

JP Haley, Maroon-News Staff

Accomplished speaker Jamie Tworkowski, creative director and founder of the mental health nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), spoke at Colgate in Love Auditorium on Wednesday, December 5. The event, co-sponsored by Active Minds and the Counseling Center, featured Tworkowski sharing the story of his foundation.

Tworkowski began his story in 2002 when he dropped out of college to work as a sales representative for Hurley, his dream job. At 22 years old, he was in charge of Hurley sales for the entire state of Florida. Tworkowski was his own boss, his friends got free Hurley clothes and he pictured himself working there for the next twenty years.

Four years later, he met Renee. She was a struggling 19 year-old dealing with drug abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts. She was told if she stayed sober and didn’t harm herself for five days she would be admitted to a treatment center in Orlando. Tworkowski and his roommate took it upon themselves to invite her into their home to keep her safe and sober for the time required.

Tworkowski and his friends got to know Renee while she lived in their living room. They took her to basketball games, concerts and spent this period together talking about her life. At the end of the five days, Tworkowski asked if he could share her story, not sure what her reaction would be. Renee lit up at the idea of others being helped by her belief that life could get better. Despite hesitating because her story held a lot of pain, sadness and questions with no clear answers, Tworkowski made the decision to be honest with it. He wrote two and a half pages describing the week they took in a broken girl and treated her like a princess.

In the short story, Tworkowski described the moment he first met Renee. She locked herself in a bathroom and wrote the “F— Up” on her arm. This is what inspired the foundation’s name: To Write Love On Her Arms. It was a thought that over the course of those five days they could help Renee believe she was deserving of love. The story was first shared over email. However, Tworkowski wanted to do more because Renee’s treatment was expensive. Drawing on his experience selling clothing at Hurley, Tworkowski decided to sell 100 T-shirts.

The first box of these T-shirts was sold at a Switchfoot concert on March 30, 2006 at Florida Atlantic University. Tworkowski’s friend and lead singer Jon Foreman wore the To Write Love On Her Arms T-shirt on stage and briefly mentioned the cause. Tworkowski left feeling disappointed he hadn’t taken better advantage of the opportunity. After a three hour drive home, Jamie opened up the foundation’s Myspace page to find comments, messages and friend requests of people who were at the concert. They said they related to the story, and it reminded them of themselves, or their dad, roommate, neighbor or girl- friend. They wrote about all different types of issues.

This was scary for Tworkowski because he was a young surf sales representative playing host to messages from people with problems he didn’t understand. So, he started to research treatment centers, suicide hotlines, support groups, books about recovery and learned there are many places dedicated to helping people through the hardest times of their life. The Myspace page soon had a list of resources on it for people to get help. Tworkowski viewed this page as a bridge people could use to continue to take steps away from being alone, away from being in pain and in a direction towards positive change. Jamie quit his regular job a few months later and began to run TWLOHA full time.

Twelve years later, the nonprofit has a building in central Florida, is a certified nonprofit home to 15 full-time staff and six to eight interns. They have more than a hundred different events across the country and internationally. They’ve responded to over 200,000 individual messages from more than 100 different countries. Today, Renee is alive and well with a baby on the way. TWLOHA has donated more than $2 million to treatment and recovery efforts.

Currently Tworkowski travels the country spreading mental health awareness and the story of TWLOHA. More information on mental health and blog posts can be found on their page https://twloha.com/learn/.

Contact JP Haley at [email protected]