A single act of kindness can go a long way. For Jamie Tworkowski, it went from helping Renee, a young woman struggling with depression and addiction, to creating a nonprofit in 2006 that has provided hope and support to those facing the challenges of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.
"It's a privilege to be able to talk about things that people tend not to talk about," said Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, speaking in Statler Auditorium Feb. 22. Tworkowski reminded the audience -- which included local college and high school students -- that they do not have to face their struggles alone. He also encouraged them to keep their roles as students in perspective.
"I can imagine that this is a place with a lot of pressure," he said of Cornell. "I want to say that you're a person -- you're not a machine, you're not a robot, you're not perfect. I hope you can feel like you're allowed to be a person and that there is meaning in that."
Tworkowski also addressed the Cornell community's recent experiences with suicide.
"I don't pretend to know a ton about Cornell, but I've read the headlines," said Tworkowski. "Sometimes suicide can get lost as just this idea or just this issue, but suicide is a person -- it's a person who was here and then [wasn't], a person who was dealing, probably quietly, with a lot of pain."
The name "To Write Love On Her Arms" was inspired by one of Tworkowski's first encounters with a young woman named Renee in 2006; under the influence of drugs and alcohol, she etched the words "f*** up" into her arm with a razor blade just hours after Tworkowski met her.
With the help of Tworkowski and his friends, Renee committed to building a new life through treatment and rehabilitation. Tworkowski shared her story and raised funds to cover her treatment by creating a To Write Love On Her Arms page on MySpace, a social-networking tool that was popular at the time, and by selling To Write Love On Her Arms T-shirts.
Tworkowski's project expanded when his friends in the bands Switchfoot and Anberlin wore the T-shirts at their concerts and encouraged their audiences to visit the MySpace page.
"There were all these messages from people who had been at the show[s] and found their way to this page," said Tworkowski. "Messages, friend requests, comments -- people essentially saying that the story we were telling was their story."
To date, the organization has responded to more than 170,000 messages from people representing more than 100 countries and has raised more than $1 million for treatment initiatives. Staff members also help students form To Write Love On Her Arms chapters at their schools. The organization does not provide counseling or clinical services, but points those who need these services to places that provide them.
Some may describe To Write Love On Her Arms as an organization that spreads awareness of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide, but Tworkowski said it does much more than that.
"The goal is to redirect the lights and press pause and say 'Hey, everybody in the room is living a story… that is unique and priceless, and sacred,'" he said.
The event, which was co-sponsored by Cornell Minds Matter and Cornell's To Write Love On Her Arms chapter, also included a musical performance by Anthony Raneri of the band Bayside.
Michelle Spektor '12 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.