By Katie Merritt / Staff Writer
What was established just seven years ago as a non-profit organization encouraging emotional well-being, “To Write Love On Her Arms” has expanded rapidly within that time, already touching the lives of millions. It all started in the midst of Renee Yohe’s inspirational life story; she was a struggling young woman whose friends refused to allow her to succumb to issues that had knocked her down. Renee’s friends did not try to counsel her, but instead listened and validated her feelings, convincing her that she was not alone.
She found the strength to stand up again and one of her friends wrote an account of their journey, calling it “To Write Love on Her Arms.” The story was shared and the organization was born.
TWLOHA’s primary goals are to provide communities of hope to anybody who needs it and to rid society of its stigmas associated with depression, anxiety, addiction, self-injury and suicidal thoughts. TWLOHA does not attempt to provide professional counseling, but raises funds each year – over $1.2 million to date – for treatment and recovery organizations.
TWLOHA works to advance its goals in various environments including, perhaps most importantly, on college campuses. The changes and transitions that students experience there often present challenges, which are frequently kept quiet – especially those pertaining to mental health – so the need for this organization is especially strong.
Amongst its 183 university chapters, TWLOHA can be found at only two community colleges, one of which is Raritan Valley. The group planted its roots on the campus in September of 2013 and has been growing ever since.
Meetings happen in a comfortable environment that encourages students to openly discuss topics such as anxiety and depression. Members, who may choose to attend either only once or every week, understand that such struggles are common, so it’s necessary to unite to face them. As Co-Advisor Jess Iselin said, “When you feel like you’re stuck in a hole, we won’t just try to pull you out—we’ll come down there and sit with you.”
The meetings balance heavy and light topics. Love, joy, and happiness are also discussed, while games, activities and snacks add to the feeling of camaraderie and warmth.
To align the RVCC chapter with the national organization, the leaders of the student organization attend an annual conference at the TWLOHA headquarters in Cape Canaveral, FL. This three-day program is lead by licensed mental health professionals that educate and inspire attendees about the issues the organization addresses.
To help their organization promote awareness of mental health issues, the RVCC chapter has held several programs and fundraisers this year. On March 7 they hosted a fashion show titled “Catwalk Conversations”, where participants inspired the audience into embracing their past and finding strength for the future. Models strutted down the runway wearing a word of pain posted to their jacket, and then symbolically broke free of the shame, removing their jacket to reveal a word of hope.
Next year’s president, Christine Hatfield, plans to continue the growth of TWLOHA on RVVC’s campus. One of her plans is to hold a “Fun Run” 5K. The event is intended to spread awareness of the club’s mission and encourage students to take part in positive, healthful activities as they complete the race and then enjoy a lunch.
Like the original TWLOHA, the Raritan Valley chapter began as a seed planted by a few caring individuals and has grown quickly, extending its branches in everyone’s directions for the same reasons as stated on the TWLOHA t-shirts, “We Will Be the Hopeful”.
The club reconvenes in September and will welcome anybody who is interested in supporting others and being supported.