Apr 232012
Authors: Bailey Constas

From the West Ballroom in the Lory Student Center Monday night, the soulful sounds of Noah Gundersen’s music introduced the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, Jamie Tworkowski.

TWLOHA, founded in 2006, is a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting help and hope to those facing depression, addiction, self-harm and suicide.

The organization, which has gained support from musical groups like Switchfoot, Paramore and Anberlin, has responded to more than 107,000 messages from people who are struggling, and has given $1 million directly to treatment and recovery efforts.

“We want to focus on intentional honesty and vulnerability and talking about social taboos,” Tworkowski said.

“We have all this stuff that we’re not sure what to do with, and tonight is more about the questions than answers and to walk out of here not alone and feeling like you deserve a support system,” Tworkowski said to open the talk.

Tworkowski grew up in Florida as a surfer and began his career working with Quicksilver for four years and then Hurley for another four years.

In January of 2006, a colleague of Tworkowski’s committed suicide –– an event that he said moved him.

Later, Tworkowski met a girl named Renee who was struggling with drug abuse, self-harm and depression.

“She told me that songs had these funny ways of being friends,” Tworkowski said. “I asked her if she would want to tell her story and she said that maybe there could be a purpose for her pain.”

He then created TWLOHA as a way to share Renne’s story.

“I was at a Coldplay concert and I had this cool idea that we would sell t-shirts to raise money for her treatment,” Tworkowski said. “We would put it on black, because that was what the band was wearing, and to have the name written in white, because that’s what color their shoes were.”

The group quickly grew popular on Myspace and gained thousands of friends and comments, becoming a place for people to come and relate to each other and share their stories.

“People began to find encouragement that they weren’t alone in their struggles,” Tworkowski said. “To break the silence and talk about things that don’t get talked about.”

“For most of us, we’re afraid of being misunderstood,” Tworkowski said. “The pain that we’re dealing with would make most people run.”

According to TWLOHA, 20 to 30 million Americans deal with depression, and two-thirds of those suffering do not get help, with untreated depression being the number one cause of suicide.

“I have the great privilege of standing on behalf of thousands of stories and people’s lives beginning to change,” Tworkowski said. “We have the parts we wish we could erase and that we’re a bit haunted by … and in the midst there’s things that make us feel alive, they connect us. The whole thing matters, all of you.”

TWLOHA’s new project is called Fears vs. Dreams, where people take portraits of themselves with their greatest fear and greatest dream written on a whiteboard.

“It’s about creating a platform where people can go to encourage and share their dreams,” Tworkowski said.

The talk brought audience members from across Colorado and the nation, including Gundersen –– whose music opened the event –– who came from Seattle.

“Seeing the very real effects as a non-profit organization and the interactions it has with people who come to these events really mean a lot to have a small part in it,” Gundersen said.

Tworkowski also brought Lauren Kirk-Patrick, a University of Denver student.

“I’m obsessed with TWLOHA,” Kirk-Patrick said. “It’s like we have the same heart for people.”

ASAP, collaborated with RHA and CSU Health Network to coordinate the event.

“It’s not just for those people dealing with issues, but it’s also relevant to friends and families of these people,” said Alex Yuan, the contemporary issues coordinator for ASAP. “I guarantee everyone knows someone who is affected by these issues.”

The Health Network at CSU offers five free counseling sessions as long as students are taking six credits or more.

The Network also offers access to group therapy, interpersonal support groups, as well as a crisis line that deal with depression, drug/alcohol abuse, stress management and other struggles students are facing.

Collegian writer Bailey Constas can be reached at news@collegian.com.

CSU Health Network information:
Counseling Services: (970) 491-6053
Drugs, Alcohol & You (DAY) Program: (970) 491-4693
Crisis Hotline: 970) 491-7111
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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