Throughout the year, my employer, IDI, hosts “Caring Days” to raise money for nonprofits championed by IDI employees. Kate’s Club enjoyed a 2011 IDI Caring Day. Most recently the nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) was spotlighted by my coworker Derrick. Derrick shared his TWLOHA connection and involvement with IDI and generously agreed to allow me to share his story and with the Kate’s Club blog community. It is uplifting to learn about other people and organizations empowering kids to tell their story, especially when it isn’t an easy story to tell.
Here is Derrick’s story, in his own words:
I first found out about To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) through the students (6-12th grade) I work with as the youth director at my church. Most all of the students I work with are creative – in bands, drama, chorus or the arts, and so we wanted to put on a concert. On their own, they wanted to do a charity show (the first of many they did) for TWLOHA. Since I had never heard of the charity before and wanted to know who we would be supporting, I went online to read more.
When I saw the site and read about it, I was thrilled that they had chosen this charity.
The first part of their vision spoke to me “You were created to love and be loved. You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know that your story is important and that you’re part of a bigger story. You need to know that your life matters.”
The entire reason I work with students is to let them know that their life is a part of a bigger story and that they have purpose. Not only does our youth group have a ton of fun (some of you have probably heard the ridiculous things we’ve done), but we have meaningful conversations about life. Week in and week out we sit in small groups and talk about life and purpose.
TWLOHA exists to present hope and find help for people (focused on teenagers and young adults) struggling with depression, addiction and suicide. You cannot ignore the facts – suicide is the third largest cause of death among 15-25 year olds (CDC) and is increasing at the greatest rate. Through youth group, I’ve sat at tables with students who have come to youth group with fresh bandages on their arms from cuts. Been to a hospital where a student admitted themselves because they felt like taking their own lives. Talked to kids whose classmates took their lives the day before. But, if you ask these teenagers, they will tell you that even as they struggle with depression and suicide, they know that their life matters and it’s because of the work TWLOHA does. They’ve taken depression and suicide out of the dark and allowed teenagers to have the discussion and I can tell you that they have saved lives.
They have a story, and I have a story. As a new father, I look back on who my Dad was and hope that I can be half the Dad he was for me to my son. He was extremely smart (CPA and MBA), respected and honest business man (rose from internal audit to head of investor relations at a Fortune 500 company), leader in the community (scout master, soccer coach), and gave everything he had for our family. However, depression, and more specifically manic depression, runs on my Dad’s side of the family (my uncle had it and my grandfather has it as well). My Dad struggled with it for 20 years, and as a kid my Mom would say to us some days “he was having a bad day and we needed to give him a hug”. On the outside, you would know nothing was wrong. But because depression is not well understood (“why can’t you just get over it”) and not comfortable to talk about, he often times struggled alone. It got worse in 2008, and in 2009 he lost his battle with depression when he took his own life. That day was the worst day of my life, and there is no doubt in my mind that it was not my Dad who took his life, but rather he lost his hard fought battle with depression like those who lose their battle with cancer.
While my story is painful, we all have a story. And those stories are not always pretty. But our story may just help someone else who is struggling to get the conversations started. TWLOHA is not afraid to bring these issues out in the dark and into the light. I believe that they’ve saved millions of lives. Thanks for supporting TWLOHA through the caring day. Know that you’re a part of a bigger story and that your life matters.
(The TWLOHA IDI Caring Day generated $1,980 from generous employees and a 100% company match)