If you’ve attended a rock concert in the past six years, you’ve probably seen a t-shirt bearing the phrase “To Write Love on Her Arms”.
Unfortunately, you’ve probably never stopped to figure out what it means.
To Write Love on Her Arms is an American non-profit organization providing hope and support for individuals struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and thoughts of suicide. While the group invests directly into treatment and recovery, they’ve distinguished themselves with an unparalleled peer-to-peer, hands-on approach to comfort, support and acceptance.
Founded in 2006 by Melbourne, Florida’s Jamie Tworkowski, the movement takes its name and message from a narrative story chronicling the addiction, attempted suicide and treatment of 19-year-old Renee Yohe. Unable to check-in to an adequate treatment facility, a group of friends provided Yohe with patience, guidance and moral support, kickstarting a life-altering movement in the process.
In 2012, To Write Love on Her Arms is an internationally recognized organization and brand, with a strong presence amongst musical artists, touring festivals, universities and social media.
I sat down with Jason Blades, the organization’s music and events co-ordinator, to discuss the movement’s history, experiences and plans for the future. Our discussion is presented below.
1. To Write Love on Her Arms has done a terrific job of establishing itself as a recognizable name in today’s music scene. But, at the same time, a lot of people don’t really know what it’s all about. Where does the name come from and what’s the movement all about?
The name To Write Love on Her Arms comes from the written story of this one young girl, Renee. It is the story of her struggles and her redemption as she entered treatment. It is how we began. We started as an attempt to help her by selling some t-shirts to pay for her treatment. Today our mission reads; To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inspire, inform and also invest directly into treatment and recovery.
2. Why music, and more specifically, why the Warped Tour? What is it about that market and demographic that appeals to the movement?
Music is a big part of our story and our beginning. We really believe in the power of music and the emotional connection it can create. Warped Tour has been so incredible for us over the last 6 years. We choose to participate because of the unique and diverse crowd that it brings. Each summer warped reaches close to 700,000 people in 45-50 cities across the U.S. There is no where else that you can expose yourself to numbers of that magnitude. Not only that, but the attendees at Warped Tour are excited to see so many non-profits. It is a generation of individuals that are excited for change and activism. I think that is why Warped Tour has been so great for us the last 6 years.
3. The organization deals with a number of issues that don’t necessarily target the Warped Tour demographic (postpartum depression, Obamacare and military involvement overseas). Do you risk pigeon-holing yourself by focusing extensively on that demographic? Clearly the movement doesn’t only apply to those people.
The reality is, all of humanity struggles with mental health issues. These issues are not ones specific to the so called “alternative crowd’. We have learned that these issues go beyond race, gender, ethnicity, social status and age, etc. If we were to only focus on this demographic, I do not think that it is a matter of pigeonholing ourselves as much as it is missing the point of our mission. We want to reach everyone where they are at, whether it is Warped tour, the military, a church, college, etc.
4. Is ignorance the single greatest obstacle in a movement like this? Are you constantly working to undermine the erroneous belief that this movement only applies to depressed teenage girls who shop at Hot Topic?
The biggest struggle for us is trying to impart knowledge, understanding and sensitivity to those struggling with mental health issues. In some cases people can be ignorant, but more than anything it is the lack of understanding and sensitivity to those struggling that perpetuates the negative stigma associated with mental health.
5. There was a period of time where I couldn’t attend a single concert without seeing a TWLOHA t-shirt. Is it concerning when a cause like this becomes a fashion fad? Is there a risk that when the shirt isn’t cool, the cause won’t be either?
We are now 6 years old and I think it is safe to say that wearing a TWLOHA shirt has passed the point where it could be considered a trend or phase. We still continue to see TWLOHA shirts at concerts, events, and pretty much anywhere. More than anything, that is encouraging to us because people wear the shirts and will talk about us because what we are doing matters to them, not because we are trendy or “cool”.
6. As positive as the Warped Tour is, it’s not immune from strong personalities or conflict (ie. the Underoath/NOFX tension in 2006 over the existence of God). While TWLOHA doesn’t identify itself as a Christian group per se, the presence and acceptance of God is clearly noted in the company’s vision statement. Have there been any conflicts or personality clashes on the tour (for religious reasons or otherwise)?
I can only speak for my 4 years experience as a part of TWLOHA and on Warped Tour and I have never had any situations or instances arise where we had a clash with anyone. Because of the diverse mix of people, musicians, and artists, there is always the chance for disagreement. I have been very surprised by the willingness and acceptance of everyone at Warped. We are all out here working out tails off for something that we believe in and I think everyone is accepting of that.
7. In the TWLOHA story, the author mentions attending an Orlando Magic/Seattle Sonics game. Have there been any steps taken to establish a relationship with one of the big four sports organizations? Given the recent coverage of depression and suicide amidst professional athletes, is that a demographic the organization is planning to pursue?
We have had some college level athletes and even some professional athletes that believe in our cause and mission and are advocates for our cause. I think that these sports and relationships are definitely worth pursuing because of the reach, influence and exposure that these organizations and athletes have. More than that, I think that it is encouraging to see professional athletes setting good examples and asking for help or seeking treatment for their struggles.
8. I know Renee, a film based on TWLOHA (and featuring Chad Michael Murray) was supposed to be released this year. What’s the status of the film? Will it see a major release?
The film should be released this fall. Im not sure of the date or what the release will look like. Our involvement with the film was somewhat limited (we are not producing or funding) so the private company working on it has been figuring out the release schedule.
9. I know the organization is very mindful and supportive of mental health issues. A few months ago, we had the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado involving John Holmes. When you’re with an organization like this, how do you look at something like that? Are you less inclined to pass judgment?
What happened is shocking, unbelievable and terrifying. We can’t begin to imagine what John was thinking to commit an act like this. There was our sticker on a car found at the parent’s home in San Diego. We wrote a blog you can read here; http://www.twloha.com/blog/what-that-sticker-means/
10. At this point, the name is clearly on people’s radar. You’ve established a strong relationship with the Warped Tour, have a University presence, and regularly hold conferences nationwide. But that’s not the end of it. Where does it go from here? What’s next for the organization?
We plan to continue to have a presence at High Schools, Churches, Universities, Music events and festivals all across the US. We recently launched a campaign targeting the surfing community called Hope Goes Surfing. This fall we will also be heading over to the UK and Europe as well! Keep an eye on our website www.twloha.com and our calendar for more information!