On March 30, 2006, Jon Foreman wore the very first TWLOHA shirt on stage at a Switchfoot concert in Boca Raton, Florida. On that night, there was no TWLOHA – not in the way that it exists today, anyway. There was just one girl, one story, and one shirt.
Ten years ago, we had no idea that we would receive 180,000 messages from people in over 100 countries. We had no idea that we would travel more than 3 million miles to meet people in their communities. We had no idea that we would continue to sell shirts to help people afford treatment for years to come.
But there were a few things we did know:
Hope is real.
Help is real.
Your story is important.
Rescue is possible.
People need other people.
No one else can play your part.
Love is the movement.
Looking back on the last ten years, we can’t help but feel incredibly grateful for how you’ve carried those messages for us. You showed us that this is about more than just one person or one story. You welcomed us into your homes and schools and communities, and you carried a message of hope and help wherever you went. Without you, the last ten years wouldn’t have been possible.
Today we celebrate our 10th birthday, but we also celebrate you and the part you’ve played in our history. Wherever you are, however long you’ve been part of our story, we hope you find reason to celebrate today.
We asked a few of our staff members to reflect on their time at TWLOHA, and we’ve included their responses below. We’d also love to hear your thoughts, so please post to Twitter or Instagram and use the #TWLOHA10 hashtag.
“Ten years ago, I was just a boy. A kid who, like most, was a little messed up and unsure about life. A kid who was looking for something to point him in a direction. A kid who knew he wanted to make a difference in life, a real difference. A kid who wanted to change the world but knew he couldn’t do it on his own. Ten years later, it’s surreal. I stare at this jersey – this jersey with my name on the back – and this number: 14. It’s insignificant to most, but to me it represents the year I signed with the greatest team in the world: Team TWLOHA. Today we look with awe and wonder at what we’ve done – but we don’t dwell in the past. Ten years is just the start. Ten years is just the beginning. So today we celebrate the light we shine and, more importantly, we look at where we’re going. Today we look forward to 10 more years.”
- Ryan Smith, Warehouse & Fulfillment Manager
“My first event working for To Write Love on Her Arms was at the Gorge in Quincy, Washington. I made the trip with my fellow intern, Justin Artoff. It was a two-week stint out West and many of the sights and sounds are still fresh in my mind. To this day, that venue holds a special place, crisply dog-earring several of my life’s favorite chapters. I remember struggling to figure out how we would display the merch. I remember seeing young people walk by three, four, and five times just trying to figure us out or get our attention without their parents hovering. I remember the long drives back to the hotel passing by upside-down cars and signs designating the different crops assigned to different fields. I remember the first person I ever had an in-depth conversation with about self-injury. I think her name was Abby. I think she had green hair.
I know that was a hard week, and it was one that solidified the importance of the work that we do. I didn’t have answers for Abby, but we talked about books. We talked about self-injury and recovery and cheap answers. We talked about how you can’t Hallelujah away pain, but maybe Leonard Cohen was right – that there’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard: the holy or the broken Hallelujah.
That was eight years ago. I’ve since logged nearly 1,000 days on the road in the hopes of talking honestly about issues we honestly don’t talk about. I can’t tell you how many info cards I’ve passed out, how many times I’ve walked through the story or mission statement, or how often I began the spiel only for someone to smile and show me their tattoo in honor of our work and how it has intersected with their life. But I can tell you all about Abby. I can tell you about Kristi, who wondered if we just profited off of pain. I can tell you about Emily, who I haven’t seen for two years now but who I hope is reading this because I still believe in her. I can tell you about Brandon and Shane, how their hugs mean more to me than most. I can tell you about Joel and Joel – both Australian – and how their tireless work and optimism has made our mission possible in the Land Down Under. I can tell you about Don, who I’ve never met, and Phillip, who I’ve never talked to about TWLOHA but who I still fight for every freaking day.
This is about people. It has always been about people. Perhaps it is more accurate to say this is about Persons. It’s about an individual encounter, uniquely repeated over and over and over. This isn’t about numbers, but it is about eye contact. This is about Kim, who loved me through my pain. This is about Blake, who answered the phone when I called at 2:30AM. This is about Dan, who is a daddy now, who accidentally introduced me to this organization. These friends and the care gave through community demonstrate a beautiful truth: the vast majority of our supporters learned about TWLOHA via someone who has never spoken on a stage or written a blog post or planned a 5k or seen our office. This movement always has been and always will be bigger than individuals, which is the only way it can serve individuals. It is about community through and through. Common hopes filling in common gaps.
So here we are at our 10th anniversary. Like most things in our history, what we have today is nothing like it was when it first began. I’ve seen the intern program shift radically. The Run For It 5k has taken on a life far bigger than our Brevard County limits. Our Myspace page no longer exists, and our website has had many facelifts. HEAVY AND LIGHT began in memory of our friend Casey and now its reverence extends to anyone who needs to feel less alone – less alone in their celebration and less alone in their hurts. Even Renee has changed, having chosen to speak less about her past in favor of singing about her future. All these changes give us equal opportunity to soak in nostalgia and dream about what can come next.
As I prepare for this next iteration of HEAVY AND LIGHT, I can’t help but be reminded of all the individuals we’ve met, the programs we’ve grown, and the changes we’ve navigated. But the theme that keeps coming to mind is that this is yours. I hope you know that your life, your presence, and your sharing have shaped this 10th year and every moment leading up to it. Ten years ago Renee asked us to remember the stars. She reminded us that “the stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms.” You are individually responsible, in part, for everything this has become. Your support and your story: These all point to brighter lights making new constellations. You are our brilliantly, ever-changing constant, and it has been a pleasure living in awe of your story for these past 10 years. Thank you for the inspiration you give us to continue this work and these events.”
– Chad Moses, Music & Events
“Like most people, I feel like I’ve grown up with TWLOHA. I first learned about what a guy in Central Florida was doing to help a friend from a roommate of mine in 2006. A few years later, I graduated college and joined TWLOHA’s small but growing team. Now, almost 7 years later, it’s hard not to map the chapters of my own story against TWLOHA’s. There have been only a few milestones in my own story that I can pause and say “this is the love” or “this is an event” that will define my life. And today, I’m looking back over the years, the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve had the privilege to know, and I know that TWLOHA made me a better human, a better wife, a better mom, a better sister, and a better friend. Today, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to every person who was courageous enough to say “me too” or to ask for help. I feel a great sense of privilege to know that today there is air in someone’s lungs because they heard someone else say it first. And so it has become more clear in the past few months that this movement of people being honest with their pain and their questions, it’s the backdrop; it’s the thread that holds all the little moments of my story together. Here’s to ten and ten more.”
- Lindsay Kolsch, Operations Coordinator
“If you go back to the beginning – before there was a nonprofit or a movie or a book – you’ll find something surprising.
That is how this whole thing started.
At the time, Renee was struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts.
She thought she was alone in her pain.
She thought her life wasn’t worth living.
She thought her story wasn’t worth sharing.
She was wrong.
She wasn’t alone.
Her life was worth living.
Her story was worth sharing.
Look at all of this and tell me you see that: In her darkest, most hopeless moments, she was wrong.
Maybe you know how she was feeling. Maybe you’re feeling that way right now. If you are, I want you to ask yourself: What are the odds that you’re wrong too?
What if you’re not alone in your pain? What if your life is worth living? What if your story is worth sharing?
TWLOHA started with a story, and that story has carried us to this moment. That story is still giving people hope. That story is still encouraging people to reach out for help.
But something else happened when we shared Renee’s story. We started to hear from other people. They invited us into their stories. And they asked us to share them.
A decade might have passed since our founder wrote the story that started it all, but TWLOHA was, is, and always will be in the business of stories.
And as our current Editor, I’m now in that business too.
700+ blog posts.
You’d think it would be easy for me to put this experience into words. Words are my job, after all. But there are only three other girls on the planet who know what it means to sit in my chair. I stepped into a role previously occupied by Kaitlyn, Whitney, and Alyce, and I have the privilege of continuing their legacy.
Together we’ve worked to help our staff, interns, and contributors share their stories in a healthy way. We’ve given them a safe place to be vulnerable. We’ve encouraged them to trust their words, to believe that they’ll reach the people who need to hear them.
In the original story, Jamie wrote that Renee was caught between hurricane and harbor. I’ve always considered it our job to bring those struggling safely to the shore.
I’ve worked with almost 200 contributors. I’ve published just as many blog posts. I’ve read comments that would make you cry and rage and laugh. I cannot speak for my predecessors today, but I can tell you what I know to be true: There is nothing more powerful than a story.
If TWLOHA turning 10 today is proof of anything, I hope it’s of the power of a single story. I hope it convinces you of the power of your own.”
- Claire Biggs, Editor