To Write Love on Her Arms founder offers hope to disillusioned

Jamie Tworkowski brought little fanfare to his speech at the College, during which he shared stories of people his nonprofit movement To Write Love On Her Arms has helped. (Matthew Mance / Staff Photographer)

Jamie Tworkowski may have been the main speaker of the night, but he had no trouble sitting with the audience while the opening act, Jared Gorbel of the Honorary Title, played a few songs. With lyrics such as “I know life is so unfair” echoing through the auditorium, the music reflected the theme of the night and the movement that Tworkowski would be discussing a little while later.

On Monday, April 18 on the Kendall Hall Main Stage, the nonprofit movement To Write Love on Her Arms came to the College. According to its website, the movement’s goal to spread awareness about the importance of giving hope and help to people who are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

“It’s really as simple as, how do we move people, how do we be creative in presenting our message which is hope and help and community,” Tworkowski said.

Tworkowski explained how the movement, first seen as more of an art project than a charity, began as a story written about a friend’s struggle with addiction and self-injury.

In February 2006 in central Florida, Tworkowski met a girl named Renee through a friend. After hearing of the challenges she faced everyday with drugs, alcohol and cutting, Tworkowski helped her seek the rehab that she needed. In the process, Tworkowski asked Renee if he could write her story down, and with consent, he moved forward with “To Write Love on Her Arms.”

“Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24,” Tworkowski’s story read. “Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of ‘friends’ offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write ‘FUCK UP’ large across her left forearm.”

According to Tworkowski, it was a story written to help her understand there was a “purpose for her pain,” and that maybe others would be able to relate and learn that a “better life is possible.”

Prior to the start of his nonprofit, Tworkowski was living a life he had dreamed about since his childhood.  As the Florida state sales rep for the surf companies Quicksilver and then Hurley by age 22, Tworkowski was making over $100,000 a year.

Four years later, while attending a conference in California for the company, Tworkowski and the other sales reps from around the U.S. learned one of their colleagues from Virginia Beach, Zeke, had committed suicide.

“Zeke was great at surfing, fishing,” Tworkowski said. “He had great style. He was alive. And he struck me as happy.”

Tworkowski discussed the idea of a type of suicide prevention campaign through the Hurley corporation, but received negative feedback from one of the vice presidents at the time.

“He said there was no such thing,” Tworkowski said. “Nothing anyone could do about it. No one could have stopped (Zeke), and I was disappointed (by his response).”

Tworkowski quit not long after that conversation. It was only weeks later that he met Renee and was able to work on that suicide prevention campaign for someone.

With the help of MySpace and alternative-rock bands Switchfoot and Anberlin, Tworkowski’s movement took off and gained followers from all over the country.

Today, TWLOHA has received messages from over 160,000 people from over 100 countries worldwide.  Tworkowski and his team have collected and donated over $850,000 to treatment.

“Being characters in our own stories can be lonely,” Tworkowski said. “People need other people. Maybe all of us have a lot more in common than we realize. We’re all human.”

For more information on the To Write Love on Her Arms movement, go to TWLOHA.com.

Hilarey Wojtowicz can be reached at wojtowi3@tcnj.edu.