EAST COUNTY — Braden River High School senior Mariah Boudreaux remembers the exact moment when her desire to help a friend collided with the notion that one person truly can make a difference.
It was the moment a friend placed a razor in her open hands.
“I didn’t know whether to be horrified or ecstatic,” says Boudreaux, noting her friend had used the blade to cut her wrists. “She said, ‘This is my last blade. This is not what my life was meant for.”
Eyes wide open
Sporting a T-shirt bearing the words, “To Write Love on Her Arms,” Boudreaux sits at her kitchen table with her laptop at her fingertips.
A black-and-white “The Storytellers” bracelet dangles from her right wrist, as she quickly pulls up her fundraising website, stayclassy.org/brstorytellers.
“I wear it every day,” Boudreaux says of the bracelet. “It’s to remind people. It’s something (I’m passionate about). I’ve seen (To Write Love on Her Arms) change lives.”
The organization represents a non-profit movement dedicated to offering hope and finding help for individuals struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.
The Storytellers is a high school campaign created as a way for high school students to share the message of To Write Love on Her Arms, while raising funds for the organization.
Boudreaux discovered To Write Love on Her Arms the first semester of her eighth-grade year after a friend shared she cut her wrists.
“She had wrist bands she wore every day (to cover the marks),” Boudreaux says. “A couple of them had blood (stains) on them. She wasn’t super open about (cutting herself), but she confided in me.
“What do you say to that?” she asks. “I was trying to help her, but I didn’t know what to do. I was 14. It was a struggle.”
Anxious about her friend’s wellbeing, Boudreaux told her friend there had to be a better way to deal with her troubles. And, after researching online, Boudreaux stumbled upon the website for To Write Love on Her Arms.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Boudreaux says. “I decided to read the story (of how it started).”
Organization co-founder Jamie Tworkowski and his friends took in a 19-year-old girl named Renee, who was high on cocaine and other drugs and was turned way from a treatment center after being dubbed “too high a risk.” Tworkowski and others took her in for five days, functioning as a detox center of sorts, and made it a memorable affair — one filled with music, laughter, prayer, encouragement and more.
The night before heading to a true treatment facility, Renee handed over the razor she had used to cut her arms.
Tworkowski created a MySpace page to tell the story and sell T-shirts to help raise funds for Renee’s treatment. The Storytellers organization formed as individuals responded by sharing their own struggles.
“When my friend found out about this story, she was very moved by it,” Boudreaux says. “She took a Sharpie and wrote ‘Hope’ on her arms to remind her. She did that for a few months and she said, ‘I have to give something to you.”
Boudreaux closed her eyes and held out her hands, as directed.
And when she opened her eyes, a razor sat in her outstretched palm.
Close to home
Boudreaux launched her own Storytellers fundraising campaign through a club at Braden River High Feb. 1. Part of a national fundraising effort, Boudreaux’s fundraiser is only one of five being conducted in Florida. The campaign runs through April 19.
To date, Boudreaux’s effort has raised more than $1,600 for the charity, which helps raises awareness of addiction, cutting and other issues, provides financial donations to recovery programs, help lines and treatment centers and provides scholarships to help pay for therapy for individuals who cannot afford it.
“(These issues are) really more common than let on,” she says. “We put on a smile, and it looks like we’ve got it all together. In actuality, there are a lot of people who struggle. It’s easy not to realize (it).”
Last month, Boudreaux hosted an “Open Mic Night” at Braden River — an event about 50 students attended. More than a dozen students shared poetry, songs or their stories of battling with depression and other issues. The event raised more than $300 for Boudreaux’s Storytellers campaign.
“(Events like that one) help to put it out there,” Boudreaux says. “People aren’t judging (you). We’re all in it together.
“This is one real opportunity I have to do something special,” Boudreaux says of the campaign. “(I told myself), I am going to take it, even if it makes me crazy busy for a few months. It’s a feel-good thing.
“To look back and be able to say I’ve raised (this amount) is impressive,” she says. “I haven’t ever raised that much for anything. I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s really cool.”
Despite Boudreaux’s passion for music — and talent for playing six instruments — she dreams of going into counseling upon graduation and plans to earn a doctorate in psychology. She will attend the University of Florida in the fall.
“It’s really an opportunity to change people’s lives and my own,” Boudreaux says of the profession. “It teaches me about myself and about other people. We have a chance to help other people, which, a lot of times, we don’t realize.”
Boudreaux adds she’s excited about starting college but also hopes to secure a semester-long internship with To Write Love on Her Arms sometime during college.
Upon completion of her doctorate, she also hopes to partner with the organization to provide counseling services, she says.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
For more information on To Write Love on Her Arms, visit http://twloha.com.
To make a donation to Braden River High School’s “Storytellers” fundraising campaign, visit stayclassy.org/brstorytellers.