Warped Tour is probably one of the highlights of any music lover’s year, with all your favorite bands and getting to hear some new bands you come to love. One overlooked highlight of Warped, though, is the hard-working people at the multiple booths every year, some selling gorgeous jewelry/hats, and in Jason Blades’ case, sharing the message of love to others. To Write Love on Her Arms is an American non-profit organization which aims to present hope for people struggling with addiction, depression, self injury, and thoughts of suicide while also investing directly into treatment and recovery. This summer, Editor Maria Gironas got a chance to interview the extremely handsome man in charge of the TWOLHA tent this summer, Jason Blades, to talk about the non-profit industry and TWLOHA’s message.
Maria Gironas: So Jason, what’s your position at To Write Love On Her Arms?
Jason Blades: I am a Music & Events Coordinator.
You started with an internship in 2009. Before that, what sparked your interest in the company?
I think a lot of the people that work for us and support us just really want to know how to help people. I have had some friends and family members struggle with some of the issues that we address and I had no idea how to help or be there for them in the right way. Obviously you want to help them, but when they’re struggling it just seems so hard to even relate. So learning about the organization and hearing about it, I just knew that as soon as I read the mission statement and the blog that it was something that I really needed to get behind and something I really wanted to be a part of. Whether I was interning for them or a volunteer, I felt like I could use it as opportunity to learn a lot about how I could help people that are struggling or that need help. That way I ended up an intern because I really wanted to help, specifically because of my friends and family, but now I’m helping anyone that needs it.
How did it kind of blossom? Because music events are kind of unique for TWLOHA, correct?
I think a lot of nonprofits nowadays are realizing and recognizing the power that having a music program can have on their organization. For us, music is a big part of how we began and a part of our story and how the first t-shirt ever worn was by a musician – we have a platform. I think the whole big picture is that musicians have this incredible platform that they have to offer, especially if it’s something they believe in so they can, in turn, use it for something good. Music stability just connects with so many people, I mean, you’re here at Warped Tour and there’s 15 to 20,000 people of all different ages, genders, demographics. They’re all here for one common thing and that’s to be inspired, to feel music, to just be here. I mean, a music program for us has been awesome in a really really unique and cool way to connect with people that we might not have been able to connect with. That’s what we try to do as an organization is to try to be there for everyone and to meet people where their at. There’s a ton of people here on all different walks of life, and we’re here working to connect to them when they need help, to encourage them, and give them whatever they need for their struggling.
Awesome! Did you always know that you kind of wanted to be in the music/TWLOHA business? How did that get started?
To be completely honest, if you were to ask me in college before I interned with To Write Love, I never would’ve seen myself working for a nonprofit. And not in a bad way, it was just never something that I ever considered. So no, I never really thought I would be doing this kind of work. Am I glad I found it? Yes! It fulfills me. I worked jobs and went to school for a business and psychology degree. The start of it is that I thought psychology would complement a business degree and help me be better in the workplace. It turns out the passion then moved to mental health and TWLOHA, but in college I wanted to get a good job that paid well. I almost didn’t care if it fulfilled me as much, it wasn’t something I really thought about.
But now I have a job that pays me to survive, but I love what I do. So any amount of pay doesn’t matter as long as I can live and take care of myself, I can do this for pennies because I love what I’m doing. That for me has been the biggest realization. Would I have ever thought that? No. Anyone nowadays, I would encourage them to do something that they love, something that moves them over something that pays a crapload.
I guess nonprofits, as you were kind of saying, is not really an industry that people are trying to get into anymore. What do you think the state of the industry as a whole?
It’s hard to say because the nonprofit model is always shifting. You’ve seen nonprofits like us, Keep A Breast and Invisible Children, even in the next generation nonprofits will change and evolve in the way they do business and raise funds. That’s kind of the constant of nonprofits is ‘how do we sustain?’, ‘how do we raise money?’, ‘how are we able to continue our mission?’ Music for us is a great way to do that but also to adapt. So I think that’s what we will notice with these newer nonprofits or with us, how we’re able to do what we do but adapt to the shifting economy and the shifting environment. I think that’ll be something really cool to see with us and how we evolve. I wouldn’t say that the nonprofit industry doesn’t exist as it used to, it’s just different. You’re also seeing the shift from nonprofits or brands that are very ethically conscious and ethically sound or morally guided. It doesn’t necessary mean that it’s a bad thing, they’re not a nonprofit but they still have a great message and they still try to help people, they’re just focusing a little more on the business side of it. It’s not bad or worse, I just think the nonprofit game is shifting. It’s changing, evolving constantly to adapt to the changing economy and the changing environment around it.
If someone were to pursue an internship at TWLOHA, what kind of advice would you give them in terms of applications or even their experience?
Our internship program is a three-part application. It’s not scary. Some people are afraid of it because it’s three parts. The first part is just a simple, kind of basic resume idea with past experiences. The second part is a questionnaire, basically we ask why you’re passionate about this and why this means something to you. There’s really no right or wrong answer, we just want get an idea of who you are. The third part is like a short video interview. That video interview is, again, to try to get a better feel of who you are. We don’t really judge people on that at all, it’s more or less we want to see how you will fit in the dynamics of every other intern that we hire.
Our intern program is a lot different from the other organizations in a sense where you live with other interns in a house with like 5-7 people. You live in a community with them because we talk about how community is how healing happens for these issues, and we want the intern to experience that hope. That’s why with these questionnaires we want to put together a house of people who are very diverse and different but will also go together well. If I were to tell anyone about the application, it’s just to show us your heart because that’s really what matters more than anything. The only reason we ask experience and that we require that you’re 18 is because of the obvious legal reasons, but we ask that people have a little college experience only because we want you to come in having a little bit of an idea of what you want to do so we can put you in roles that will develop that for you and benefit you as long as you’re in the organization. Just come in with an open mind and be willing to work and learn about mental health, especially with that application, but above all just show us what’s in your heart because that’s really what we care about. It’s not necessarily whether you’ve done college or not, we’ve had interns that are 28 years old and they had quit their full-time jobs because they needed a restart to do something else, we’ve had interns that have never done college and probably won’t or don’t want to. All of that’s not really relevant as long as you’re passionate about it.
Going back to the music, what bands have you been checking out on the Warped Tour?
It’s still really early in the summer so it’s hard to say. We’ve been set out near the main stage a couple of times and there’s some bands on there that we like, as well as an organization we work a lot with The Summer Set and they’re on the main stage so it’s cool to see them. I like them a lot as people and their music is catchy and really good. There’s this band called The Color Morale that I’ve never heard before this tour. I knew they were a band, but I never heard their music. After listening to it, their lyrics and everything is really positive and kind of fits what we do as an organization. It’s really cool to watch them. There’s a few others, but I’m sure as the summer progresses and if you asked me at the end I would know for sure. It’s just been so busy trying to get in this summer that I don’t know yet.
Be sure to stop by the TWLOHA tent at Warped Tour this summer! If you or anyone you know happens to be fighting depression, do not be afraid to contact TWLOHA or someone you trust.
To Write Love On Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. Since its start in 2006, they have donated over $1.2 million directly into treatment and recovery and have answered over 170,000 emails from over 100 countries. TWLOHA has one of the largest online audiences of any non-profit on both Facebook and MySpace, and has been featured on NBC Nightly news with Brian Williams, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, Rolling Stone and founder Jamie Tworkowski has won an MTVU Woodie Award. TWLOHA was most recently awarded a $1 million grant from Chase at the first-ever American Giving Awards (AGAs) announced on NBC.