by IRENE RIOS//Staff Writer
The room goes dim, the audience gets quiet and eight impactful words appear on a large screen on a stage: “You were created to love and be loved.”
A study conducted my Emory University shows that more than 1,000 suicides occur on college campuses each year.
In conjunction with Suicide Prevention Week, Texas Tech University’s RISE program recently offered a presentation with keynote speaker Jamie Tworkowski, with music performed by Steven McMorran.
“We love to start with music, because it has this unique ability of being honest and remind us that it is OK to be honest,” said Tworkowski.
McMorran is a musician from Nashville, Tennessee, who has also struggled with problems of his own. But he is able to use these struggles and turn them into powerful songs. He sang “Cleveland Tide,” “Brooklyn,” and “Made in America.” McMorran is also the lead singer for the band “Satellite.”
Tworkowski’s presentation was held on Sept. 15 at the Mark and Becky Lanier Professional Development Center on the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock.
Tworkowski is the founder of the non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms. Its purpose is “dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”
The story of TWLOHA and what it became started when Tworkowski met Renee Yohe, who at the time was struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, addiction and self-injury. After being denied help from a treatment center in Orlando, Yohe spent the next five days living with Tworkowski and his roommate. After their time together, Tworkowski felt compelled to write a story about his time with Renee.
“I wanted to write the story because I didn’t want to forget,” says Tworkowski. “I wrote it for me, to honor her and maybe the story would encourage someone, encourage them to be honest and maybe seek the help they need. She loved the possibility of having a purpose for her pain.”
While writing her story, he kept coming back to a phrase he wrote. It developed from a memory of a night when Yohe inscribed (expletive) across her left forearm. The words represented how she saw herself, and Tworkowski wanted to remind her that her life meant more than two words. Eventually, it became the title of the story, along with the name of the organization.
The phrase “To Write Love On Her Arms” holds a lot of meaning for Tworkowski.
“It is the hope and the goal of believing in getting to a place where you deserve better,” he explained, “where sobriety, healing, redemption, and letting go could happen. A place where life looked better.”
Tworkowski had two ideas of what he wanted to happen with his story. The first thing was finding a home for it, and that evening he posted it on MySpace. His next idea was raising money to help Yohe pay for the treatment she was entering, because she was not financially stable then.
Tworkowski made t-shirts with the words ‘To Write Love On Her Arms’ to sell and raise money. In March 2006, moments before their show in South Florida, Tworkowski opened his first box of t-shirts backstage at a SwitchFoot concert. Lead-singer Jon Foreman of SwitchFoot wore one of the first shirts on stage. During the set, Foreman spoke to the audience about Tworkowski’s project.
The events that happened after would later change everything.
After the concert, Tworkowski logged into MySpace and had an inbox filled with messages from hundreds of people responding to his story. People were messaging him saying that the story he wrote was their story, their fathers, mothers, sister, brother, and that’s when he realized these issues did not just affect Americans, Hispanics or Blacks, but everyone all over the world.
Approximately 20 million Americans suffer from depression. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide, and two out of three people who struggle with depression will never seek help.
“The majority of people who live in this painful place, live alone,” said Tworkowski. “It points to the stigma, the shame, and confusion.”
Tworkowski never had any intention of this project becoming anything more than helping a friend pay for her treatment.
“It just felt too special to walk away,” said Tworkowski when he left his job as a Hurley sales representative to pursue the future of TWLOHA, even though its future was unclear.
“Fast forward from then to now,” he adds. “It’s no longer just me on a MySpace page. There is a staff of 14 of us who share an office in Melbourne, Fla.”
What started out as trying to help a friend ended up having a world-wide impact. Since 2006, they have answered more than180,000 messages from 100 different countries. In 2011, they received a $1 million grant from the American Giving Awards. They have raised more than $1.6 million for treatment.
“The goal for me when I travel the world with these events is an attempt to switch places,” Tworkowski says. “To remind you that your story matters as much as mine, as any person that will stand on this stage. Remember that life is sacred, unique, and priceless. My hunch is that we all have parts in our story that we don’t like, maybe even hate, things we wish we could erase. Your pain matters. Your life matters. Your dreams matter, and your story matters.”
To learn more and support TWLOHA visit their website at www. Twloha.com. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1(800)273-8255