"What are you going to do with the money?" Christina asked Jamie the night after his organization, To Write Love On Her Arms won $1 million dollars in the American Giving Awards.
"I'm going to do a tour. Will you do it?"
Two years later I'm at the second stop of the Heavy and Light Tour in Los Angeles. The annual concert that took place in Florida has evolved into 17-dates featuring Jon Foreman of Switchfoot / Fiction Family, Christina Perri, Aaron Gillespie of The Almost Bryce Avery of The Rocket Summer, Anthony Raneri of Bayside, Will Anderson of Parachute and several others.
"We had people fly and drive from all over to come to Orlando, but naturally a lot of people couldn't make it. It was really as simple as if we win that money we can bring this event to people everywhere. This was the dream," Jamie explained from the Foundation Room of the Sunset Strip's House of Blues.
To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), a nonprofit focused on providing hope and support for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide, has had music help drive its mission from the beginning - artists wear their t-shirts, take them on the road and make posts online.
Now with Heavy and Light, artists are able to absorb the audience in an experience that brings TWLOHA's work to life. The tour also provides an opportunity for the ex-surf industry rep turned nonprofit guru, Jamie Tworkowski, to meet people he's directly impacted.
"I meet people with tears in their eyes that say, 'I'm still alive because of your organization.'"
TWLOHA has donated over $1,000,000 directly into treatment and recovery and answered in excess of 170,000 emails from over 100 countries according to its website. To further expand their work, Jamie sees music as one of the best ways to connect.
"Our hope with the show is that people feel less alone, more encouraged, and that their story matters. We do of course strive to create an entertaining night, but we really hope people leave and say 'I need to talk to someone' or 'I need to have this conversation with someone.' That's really my dream for these nights."
For Christina Perri, To Write Love On Her Arms was a cause she championed since her career exploded into the mainstream quite literally overnight.
"I have always struggled with my own kind of demons. To Write Love fit perfectly with my message and the things I sing about," she said. "I feel like if I wasn't on stage tonight I'd be in the audience."
Christina has brought TWLOHA on her own tours in the past and designed a special t-shirt with 100% of proceeds benefitting the organization. Although she was unable to join the whole tour, the shows she was a part of clearly left a lasting impression.
"I can't even explain the feeling in the room. It's not like anything I've ever felt before. When I walked out on stage the first night I was overwhelmed with this feeling in my heart. Not to sound cheesy, but it was kind of like a big hug. Like relief. That's unreal."
"I feel like a piece of the pie," she continued. "I'm really excited to have been asked and super proud to be a part of this."
The headliners of the tour, Fiction Family, featuring Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek, made Heavy and Light part of their album release tour.
Jon being the first to agree to Heavy and Light, was also the first musician to get behind To Write Love as he began wearing their t-shirts on stage several years back.
"I hear these amazing stories. There was a girl after the show who was bi-polar and had been struggling with depression. Music, specifically a couple of my songs, and To Write Love's website was one of the things she attributed to getting through it," Jon shared about a recent encounter.
"These stories give meaning and purpose to what we do here. You say you want to leave the city a better place and plug people into the ways to help, but a lot of times it's really tricky to figure out a good organization that we can direct people to. To Write Love On Her Arms has really done their homework in providing people resources so it's not just a one night encounter."
I've met Jon at least a half a dozen times now, and every now and again he nails the sentiment of an event like this so perfectly.
"We all have our boxes that we put ourselves in, and songs can loosen those chains and break the boundaries to recognize that we're all in this together. This tour is about figuring out how to live life better. I'm excited to be here."
The common themes I recognized from these interviews were words like open, honest and safe. It seemed for every artist TWLOHA had personal meaning.
It's easy to criticize, chalk it up to being "emo" and tell someone to get over it. The problem is that so many people don't have an outlet, no one to talk to, and therefore they don't know how to begin to dig themselves out of a hole. We all go through this kind of thing on one level or another, and if you can't see an end in sight, To Write Love on Her Arms is an organization that can help.
I'm happy to see friends I've known for years playing on this tour and continuing to fight the good fight. And I'm thankful for organizations like To Write Love On Her Arms for helping to pave the way for other nonprofits to follow. Well done.