UC Irvine got a little surprise on a night when most of the students should’ve been in libraries downing their fifth shot of espresso in preparation for their finals. Instead, an anxious group packed a very sterile Crystal Cove Auditorium for a conversation to brighten everyone’s worried spirits.
To Write Love On Her Arms, (more recognizable as TWLOHA on the members’ t-shirts) a non-profit organization founded by ex-clothing employee Jamie Tworkowski, spoke about helping those suffering with depression, drug abuse and self-injury. Indie-folk artist Josh Moore and Dustin Kensrue, lead singer of Thrice, played acoustic sets in support of the coalition.
What started as a surprising encounter with a drug-using acquaintance turned into an international support group with bands like Paramore, Anberlin, Copeland and Switchfoot. It all began when Tworkowski accompanied his friend to meet with then-19-year-old Renee Yohe who, high on drugs and having no direction, was on the fence with suicide. Tworkowski, along with his friend David, was able to rip Yohe out of the grasp of her druggie roommates and into a life of sobriety.
“These are not white issues or emo issues,” Tworkowski said as he shared his story with a reverent audience of mostly high-school students. “So often people are afraid of their pain, it all begins by being honest.”
Yohe’s story seemed to echo the lives of different people around the world. Tworkowskiz decided to post her story on his MySpace, where his page filled
with messages congratulating Yohe on her sobriety and strength to rid herself of her self-affliction. The story also grabbed the attention of musicians. Kensrue contacted Tworkowski via MySpace and told him he was interested in helping in any way.
“I think there’s a way to make music full of weight that lifts people up from a dark place,” Kensrue said about how music can influence fans. He went on to mention that a good start to dealing with depression is to vocalize your struggles, whether to a friend, lyrics or anyone willing to listen, “It hurts when you just keep your [pain] inside. It destroys you inside and out.”
Moore, who performed before Kensrue, mixed in some covers with his songs, including Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” He appropriately closed his set with The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.”
After their sets, Tworkowski opened the floor to anyone who wanted to share their stories of struggle or anyone in need of advice to help with their own problems.
Kimberly Snodgrass, a third-year social science major, took the microphone to share her story of growing up in a broken home. Both of her parents were addicted to drugs. Snodgrass traveled with her three other siblings from Arizona to California, never knowing when the next meal would come. It was common for the family to stay at a Motel 6 and eat at Del Taco. At 11, Kimberly had had enough of her parents’ drug use. She poured out her parents’ alcohol, which led her mother to attack her. She was in and out of foster care for five years, but doesn’t regret a day of her upbringing.
“Things happen for a reason. If I would’ve never gone through the foster care system and grew up in a home that adopted me, my road would’ve never crossed the road of UCI.”
Snodgrass wrote a book about her experiences. Though it has not been published yet, she is open to let anyone read a copy of it. She wants to emphasize one’s need to turn fear and pain into motivating factors to get through the harsh realities of life. But it wasn’t her parents’ drug use that affected her most; it was her older sister’s death due to drug use that shook her foundations.
“She taught me how to read and write and raised me like I was her child.” Snodgrass stays confident that seeing the positive in everything can help anyone.
“I just wish that people could take their challenging experiences and use it to uplift themselves