Julisa Gendren celebrated her one-year clean of self-injury by getting a tattoo on her ankles that says, “Hope is real. Help is real.”
“I never would have made it this far without TWLOHA,” said freshman French and German major and committee chair member of the USI group To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA).
TWLOHA is a national, nonprofit organization which seeks to present hope to people with addiction, depression, self-injury and thoughts of suicide.
TWLOHA’s founder, Jamie Tworkowski, will speak 8 p.m. April 11 in Carter Hall with a Q&A and an introduction from musical quest SWIMM.
TWLOHA began in 2006 as Tworkowski’s attempt to help a friend and tell a story. He posted a blog on his website and began selling T-shirts as a way to pay for his friend’s treatment. Three years later, TWLOHA has the largest online audience of any nonprofit on Facebook, with over 700,000 followers.
Gendren said she met with Tworkowski when USI’s chapter members took a trip to Nashville, Tenn., for “Heavy and Light,” an event sponsored by TWLOHA that included music and stories in an attempt to inspire people.
“Hearing Jamie talk will change your life,” Gendren said. “It certainly changed mine.”
Gendren said Tworkowski has so much love for every person that people can’t help but love themselves more after talking to him.
“The best part about him is that he never meant to start something revolutionary, but he did,” Gendren said. “He just wanted to help a friend he barely even knew.”
Erin Gillingham, junior social work major and founder and president of USI’s chapter, said the project to bring Tworkowski to campus officially started this past November.
“We’ve wanted to bring Jamie to USI since our TWLOHA chapter was formed in 2011, but there have always been issues of funding, schedules, etc.,” Gillingham said. “This year we finally felt ready, as a group, to take on the responsibility.”
Gillingham said the chapter reached out to various departments on campus. Marcia Kiessling and the Office of Student Affairs agreed to help fund the program.
Once they had the funding available, TWLOHA reached out to Keppler Speakers, the group’s speaking agency, to start the process of filling out forms and planning.
Gillingham said the Office of Student Affairs provided most of the funds, but they also received help from the Counseling Center and are still waiting to hear back from a Student Government Association (SGA) grant.
“At the beginning of the semester, a close friend of our group passed away,” Gillingham said. “Her family asked for donations for TWLOHA, and we’ve put all of the money donated towards this program.”
Gillingham said the chapter has held different fundraisers this semester, including a benefit called “Lyrics and Conversation.”
“The last few months have been spent preparing for the event, including promotion and advertising, fundraising and getting the word out,” Gillingham said. “We’re really hoping for a full house that night.”
Gillingham said USI’s chapter believes in TWLOHA’s message of hope and community and she hopes that everyone attending will leave the event encouraged, inspired and comforted in the knowledge that they are not alone.
“By just trying to help a friend, Jamie ended up starting a worldwide movement that says it’s okay to ask for help,” Gillingham said. “People need to be reminded that they’re loved, and they don’t have to struggle alone.”
Robbillie Stevenson, sophomore social work major and coordinator for the event, said during her time with TWLOHA she learned that not only the problems she struggles with, but others’ as well, will eventually get better.
“Even in your lowest times, the power of relationships with others and discovery of self-worth is real,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said she wants members of the audience to know that they are not alone.
“Thousands of students and other people are struggling with the same things that they are. Reaching out for help doesn’t make you weak – it shows that you are stronger than the rest.”