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To Write Love On Her Arms Talks Non-Profits & Festival Season in our PV Q&A

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This festival season, in the midst of merch booths and main stages, food vendors and amplifiers, sits a booth that strives to convey a message far greater than its surrounding atmosphere. Each year, non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms sets up camp at various summer music festivals, spreading their message on mental health, building relationships with the music community, and selling those famous t-shirts you probably own at least one of. And, while festival season provides a great opportunity for the organization to reach thousands, they work tirelessly year-round to provide conferences, campaigns, and services to help those suffering from mental health disorders. This past Bamboozle, we had the chance to catch up with the organizations' own Chloe Grabanski, who serves on The Board of Director of Fundraising and Supporter Relations. Here, Grabanski tells us about TWLOHA's busy festival season, current campaigns, and inspiring connection to the music scene. Check it out, visit their booth at Warped Tour this year, and head to their official website to make a donation to the cause or find out how you can get involved.

PureVolume: When was the first year TWLOHA set up booth at Bamboozle?
Chloe Grabanski: I believe it was in 2007, and it wasn’t anything as elaborate as what we have now. This is the fourth year that I’ve done it, though, and we’ve definitely gotten a bigger setup and have started doing more interactive things as we’ve [gone along].
PV: How have you watched the organization, and the booth, evolve over the years?
CG: We have different things, and different campaigns, that we do. Right now we’re doing our Fears vs. Dreams campaign. It started last year at Warped Tour, and [in it] we’re asking people to share their greatest fears and their greatest dreams. People are so caught off guard by it, because you don’t usually ask those kinds of questions at events like this. We wanted something that engaged people, and something where they could share who they are versus just walking away with a shirt. We wanted them to have a memory attached to it.
PV: How has the reaction been to this particular campaign?
CG: People have really connected with other people because they see their fears and dreams and think, ‘wow, that’s mine’ or ‘I’m afraid of that too, but I didn’t know other people felt that way.’ So, for the most part, people have been writing really compelling things because it’s completely anonymous.
PV: From what I’ve noticed at festivals, people recognize the shirts and the name, but not always the message. Do you ever find it’s difficult for you to relay the exact message of TWLOHA to somebody new, considering what a crazy atmosphere festivals are?
CG: Sometimes. When people are dead set on thinking we’re a band — and I mean, the name does sound like a band name, that was my first thought when I saw someone wearing a shirt. And some people still think that, but in every shirt we sell it has a hang tag in it with our mission statement and our website, and we’re always giving people literature, trying to connect them with what we do, and the shirts are a huge part of that.
PV: Can you give an example of how the shirts work to help the overall cause?
CG: They’re a vehicle to fund what we do, and also a conversation starter about the issues. If you see somebody wearing a shirt you can say to them, ‘hey, what does that shirt mean?’ and they can say, ‘it’s this non-profit [that does] work for people who are struggling with depression, and addiction, and thoughts of suicide, and [they] invest directly into treatment and recovery. Since 2006 we’ve donated over $1 million, and that wouldn’t be possible without t-shirts. And we [donate] in a variety of ways to organizations, or to help people who are low income go to counseling. So, for someone who can’t afford to go, we’ll say ‘okay, we’ll pay everything except for $5,’ just so they’re invested as well, and we’re able to do that because of t-shirts.
PV: Is there a story that somebody shared with you at one of these festivals that has stuck with you over the years?
CG: Oh yeah, there are so many people that come up — whether it’s a mom whose daughter is struggling with self-injury, or a teenager who had one of their best friend’s commit suicide — and you carry those [with you] all the time. The one that sticks out the most for me [took place] on the Alkaline Trio/Saves The Day tour in 2009. We were in Milwaukee, and a guy came up to me [who] didn’t know what we were. So, I told him and he was just visibly very moved. He then shared with me that he was in the military, and his brother — who was also in the military — had just committed suicide a month ago that night. The guy wasn’t even going to go to the show. He hadn’t left his house. And, of all the nights, of all the places he could have gone, he goes to this show where we’re at. The conversation we had — I’ll never forget it, I’ll never forget him, that really just sits with me all the time. And that’s why we do this. We’re working with a new organization that helps the military, so we’re always trying to grow and evolve.
PV: Can you talk about some of the other initiatives you’re working on?
CG: We have a lot of different programs — our Move community conferences, our UChapters, a high school campaign — we’re always trying to do a variety of things so that we can change the stigma that’s associated with mental health. We want people to know that you can talk about these things. 21 million people in America struggle with depression, 2/3rds of people never get help, and depression is the leading cause of suicide. All of those things have to do with not talking about these issues. When we talk about these issues, we can put a name to them, and we can help to change them.
PV: Do you think that being so closely-knit to the music community, and having bands support the organization, does help to remove any negative stigmas associated with mental health?
CG: The band support means so much to us, because the people who go to shows love that music, and typically look up to whatever that band is. When we did the Bamboozle Road Show, we had a main stage artist wearing a shirt every night because they wanted to. Forever The Sickest Kids, Boys Like Girls, Simple Plan, [these bands all] wore [shirts] because they wanted to. Martin [Johnson, of BLG] is a huge supporter, and he wore a shirt almost every day of the whole tour. We had people coming up specifically because they saw him wearing a shirt and wanted to know about it. [The support] means the world to us because they help us, and we in turn want to help them, because we believe in their music. You can go to a show and think you have nothing in common with anyone, yet you’re all in that same room listening to that band, so it transcends stereotypes, cultures, everything.

 
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