Finding healing through community

Story by Katie Hoffman

It’s not often a 26-year-old quits his dream job to run a MySpace page. Especially when that dream job earns him $100,000 per year.

Jamie Tworkowski left his job as a sales representative for Hurley in 2006 to start a non-profit organization named To Write Love On Her Arms, in honor of his friend Renee who, at the time, was struggling with addictions and self-injury.

Speaking to a sold-out crowd in the Council Fire room of the W.R. Davies Center last night, Tworkowski told the story of the organization, which is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for those suffering from
depression, addiction, self-injury and suicidal tendencies.

Susan Swanson, an Eau Claire resident, said she came to the event with her husband Gregory, because the subject matter interested her.

“Talking about issues of mental health is important, especially for college students,” she said. “The honesty, and the way (Tworkowski) spoke from his heart, really draws people in. It’s relatable.”

The night began with Noah Gunderson, a musician and Tworkowski’s friend.

Tworkowski said he liked to bring music “into the mix” due to its unique ability to remind people that they’re alive. Music isn’t always easy, he said, it provides an outlet for honesty that sometimes can’t be spoken out loud.

Although packed with people, the dimly lit Council Fire room had the atmosphere of being at a coffee house with close friends. Between songs, Gunderson talked to the crowd, and said he was “blessed to be a part” of the work of Tworkowski and TWLOHA.

“Tonight is about the questions, maybe more about questions than answers,” Tworkowski said. “I wonder if what we need isn’t just someone who shows up to fix us, but someone that will just meet us in our questions.”

Tworkowski began his speech with the story of how TWLOHA got started, introducing the audience to a young woman named Renee.

Tworkowski said he met Renee through his friend David. He said he remembers seeing Renee coming downstairs in a drug dealer’s apartment where she was staying, and it was obvious that night had meaning.

That night, Renee took a razor blade and wrote the phrase, “f*** up” on her arm. Tworkowski said that next day, he and David, along with other friends, brought Renee to a treatment center.

“Halfway through our time together, I asked her this really vulnerable question,” Tworkowski said. “It was, ‘what do you think about the possibility of telling this story.’ She agreed, and said she loved the possibility that there could be a purpose for her pain.”

During her time at the treatment center, Tworkowski wrote Renee’s story down, focusing on the meaning behind Renee’s cutting.

“I kept coming back to this phrase, thinking maybe this was supposed to be the title,” Tworkowski said. “It was, ‘to write love on her arms.’ It went back to this identity word that she had marked across her body. If that word was about identity, then the goal was about making that
identity positive.”

After leaving his job at Hurley, Tworkowski dove into the movement of TWLOHA. He began by ordering 200 t-shirts to raise money for Renee’s treatment costs, he said, hoping to sell them all in a few months.

Tworkowski credits the success of the shirts to bands like Switchfoot and Anberlin, who wore the shirts during concerts at the height of their popularity.

The bands began to speak during their shows about the organization, and how people could get involved. Tworkowski said TWLOHA is now the biggest non-profit group on MySpace and Facebook.

Tworkowski said the organization is a few weeks away from donating $1 million to help close to 20 million people struggling with depression and addiction.

To Write Love On Her Arms has read and responded to nearly 160,000 letters in over 100 countries, Tworkowski said.

“The word community is an idea that as people, we need other people,” Tworkowski said. “Maybe we’re made to be loved, and something magical can happen when we start to live life that way.”