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The Hot Seat | To Write Love on Her Arms

432101_10150575393026957_1934308124_nBy Winfield Dean

Back in March I had the honor of sitting down with To Write Love On Her Arms at SXSW to discuss how the organization was started, the motion picture that was made about the organization, and where To Write Love On Her Arms is heading in the future.

Winfield: For those who may not know, could you explain how To Write Love On Her Arms started back in 2006?

Chad [TWLOHA]: In February 2006, there was a young woman by the name of Renee who was battling a drug addiction and had a lot of issues with depression and self-injury. She opted to seek help for her drug addiction and on the first day that she tried to enter treatment they actually turned her away due to the drugs that were in her system. They didn’t have a detox unit and they said ‘to come back in five days if you can stay sober’. So at that point a guy named Jamie and a couple of his friends took her in for those five days and really just did all they could to let her know that this road of recovery that she was about to go on, she wasn’t going to be travelling alone, that she had people in her corner, that she had people that were going to be cheering for her throughout this process. On the eve before she entered treatment successfully, Jamie said ‘you know how would you feel about sharing your story with someone?’ She said ‘if one person can be affected positively by my experience then there’s been a purpose for all this pain’. So from there Renee entered treatment and Jamie decided to write a story about those five days that he spent with her and he called it To Write Love On Her Arms. He put the story on Myspace, he printed up some t-shirts to sell to help offset the cost of her medical bills, and from there folks started wearing the t-shirts, bands started wearing them, and people started to check out the story online. They said that ‘this story sounds a lot like some people in my life like, my parents, my siblings, or myself, is there hope for me? Is there help for me as well?’ So To Write Love On Her Arms kind of emerged there as the grassroots of the organization and now we exist to present hope and help for anyone struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. Really if we could be anything we’ll be a bridge that will connect people looking for help with that help.

Winfield: How has To Write Love On Her Arms grown and transformed during the last 6 years?

Chad: Yeah, it’s kind of changed but it’s kind of stayed the same, you know? We still kind of go at this not through the lens of how should a non-profit business work, but in ways of how can we tell a story? How can we affect people that we encounter everyday? And beyond that, how can we encounter more people? It’s never really been about business models for us, it’s been about creativity and it’s been about meeting people where they are. So really while it’s morphed and gotten a little bigger, that part has still stayed very much the same. Likewise, this started as one person’s story, as Renee’s story, and we’re still very much about individual stories. We never want to forsake the fact that Renee is not necessarily unique in what she was struggling with; that there’s so many people that have that same story and we want to treat them not as the next person in line but we want to get to know their name, we want to know what makes them tick, we want to know their fears and their dreams, we want how we can help them as a person. So we’re still very much about one story at a time kind of mentality. From emails to big events like SXSW we can’t wait to hear more and more stories like that.

Winfield: To Write Love On Her Arms’ story is becoming a film called “Renee”. What was the process like for you working with actors and writers to try to get the story told as honestly as possible?

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