Your Heart is Welcome Here

Last weekend I boarded a plane on my way to Melbourne, FL for Heart Camp. 

Heart Camp was a two day event hosted by a long time hero of mine, Jamie Tworkowski. It brought together 42 strangers from 18 states and 4 countries. We gathered, collectively unsure of what we were walking into, but more than thankful for what we walked out of at the end.

In our two days together, we listened to Jamie speak about the non-profit he founded, To Write Love On Her Arms, his writing, self-care, and authenticity. We heard from Sierra DeMulder, an incredible spoken word poet, and Denny Kolsch, a mental health professional working to provide rehabilitation for opioid addicts. Heart Camp was a refreshing, incredible experience for me and for me 41 new friends.

Though we shared the two days and seven sessions, each of our experiences was unique. Jamie has another Heart Camp coming up in February and, I promise, you need to be there. In case you don't believe me, I got a handful of my Heart Camp friends to tell me why they think you should join Jamie in Melbourne next month.

I want to ask you to pay attention to the details of these entires; note the diversity in age, location, occupation, and experience. There is no formula for the standard Heart Camp participant. There's really not even an expectation of what you get out of the experience. Heart Camp is a safe, special place and you don't have to be anybody but yourself.


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Still need more convincing? Here's what my friends had to say:

Amanda Osowski
Home: Chicago, IL
Age: 31
Occupation: Clinical Enrollment Specialist
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • While the content of the sessions was invaluable, I never even thought twice that the people I met would be cut from such a similar cloth, and that my heart would find so many true, honest friends by simply being myself.
  • To grow, it's important to step outside of the box. Heart Camp is the safest yet bravest place to do just that. Do you want your heart to expand? Simply put, then Heart Camp is for you.
  • If you've ever wondered how to start something, even a conversation in places it might not be used to being, Heart Camp will give you tools, and courage, to do just that.
  • Do you feel bored, or lame, or uncomfortable when you meet new people and they ask you "What you do?" Would you rather they ask you "What is your dream?" Then Heart Camp is for you.

Jessica Morris
Home: Melbourne, Australia
Age: 27
Occupation: Journalist
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • You learn from the best of the best about mental health, writing, self care, and creativity.
  • You are challenged gently and with love to expand your goals and dream new dreams
  • You will meet like minded people who will teach you the value of stories and acceptance.
  • You get to pick Jamie’s brain. Honestly. Ask the tough questions. Ask the silly questions. Hear the story behind the stories.
  • Heart Camp is coming home for your soul. And it’s in Florida and it is perfect and beautiful.

Sarah Colbert
Home: Waco, TX
Age: 32
Occupation: Librarian
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • You will never feel more at home with a group of 42 strangers. When I arrived I had been struggling with loneliness. Moving 11 hours away from home is rough. When I left, I had 42 new friends. People who know me. While we live in different places all over the world, I know that when I am lonely, I can pick up my phone and get in touch with any of my new friends and not feel alone anymore.

David Agor
Home: Nigeria, Africa || Living in: Maryland
Age: 27
Occupation: Nursing student
Why he attended Heart Camp:

  • I came to Heart Camp because I was looking for community. I have never felt like I belong and I wanted to make my heart whole again. I came to Heart Camp because I wanted to dream again. I wanted to improve my writing and expand my horizon. I came to Heart Camp because I didn't know what it meant to be myself anymore, and wanted an opportunity to be myself, and the strength and encouragement to continue to be myself. I came to Heart Camp because I want to stop surviving but to start living, thriving and blooming. Amazingly everything and more that brought me to Heart Camp was accomplished. A new community was born, a community that transcends above race, age, orientation, sex or age. 
 Photo by Kenneth Westphal

Photo by Kenneth Westphal

Candice Carpenter
Home: North Carolina
Age: 35 and ALIVE
Occupation: LMBT and Reiki Practitioner
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • There are so many reasons to attend Heart Camp but the thing that sticks out to me most was that we all found comfort in the authenticity we found. We came as ourselves, were safe to be ourselves in beauty and brokenness and were held by one another. It wasn’t about how much we shared and with how many, it was that we shared and that when we did, it was cared for. You may or may not have a solid support system at home, but after Heart Camp, you most definitely WILL.

Erin Hird
Home: La Plata, Maryland
Age: 32
Occupation: Admissions Counselor
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • The past 5 years have been a healing process for me. Throughout it all, I have been looking for someone who just “gets it.” At Heart Camp, I found that in not just one, but 42 others. I was able to find the inspiration that I have been lacking and looking for in my everyday life, not only in the sessions but in the personal stories that everyone shared as well. Lately, I have been feeling bad for wanting to remember why I started this journey. Like others are annoyed by my allegiance to the past and tired of hearing about what has happened. Like I should “get over it” by now. But at Heart Camp, I felt like everyone was there for each other, to share in the pain and the hope and the promise of better days. And for that I’m thankful.

Naomi Doescher
Home: South Brevard County, FL
Age: 31
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • If you have been struggling finding your place in the world, searching for your tribe, or if you are seeking inspiration for your next endeavor or support and encouragement for your current one, Heart Camp can help you achieve your goals. It is for everyone, from every background and every current walk of life. It is for anyone seeking authenticity, in themselves and those around them. Desiring real, raw, deep conversations with pure honestly and openness and no fear of judgment. A group of people who will love you, support you, and lift you up as you all tell your stories. Or even a place to absorb all of the love and inspiration like a sponge, if you do not feel comfortable sharing, that’s ok, too! I personally was not sure what to expect, but I was excited to attend. I was entirely apprehensive as well due to anxiety. However, I am so proud of myself and happy that I did not give into doubt. I was able to be my authentic self and be surrounded by such love and positivity than I have had in years. I left with a renewed vision for my life and image of myself. You will leave with newfound friends, your Heart Camp Family, your Pack. If you are having any second thoughts or doubts on coming, reach out to Jamie or an attendee in the inaugural event. You WILL find support, you will find acceptance and love.

Amanda Waddell Raffenaud
Home: Orlando, FL
Age: 37
Occupation: Assistant Professor
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • Heart Camp provides a safe space for people to come together and talk about what it looks like to live from their authentic hearts. No matter the story, there is commonality in what everyone walks through. And there’s beauty in sharing and overcoming, together. 
  • As an educator, I want to show up and spread hope for my students. Heart Camp facilitated meaningful conversations about what life can look like when we choose courage and choose to hold hope for others in our lives. I am returning to the classroom as a better teacher because of what I learned at Heart Camp. 
  • After a season of personal loss and grief, Heart Camp was a safe space to show up and share. But not just that, it was a safe space to invite others into my story and allow them to hold the hope that better days are ahead. Actually, the very best of days lies ahead. There is a bigger story being written.
 Photo by Kenneth Westphal

Photo by Kenneth Westphal

Kaye Green
Home: Orlando, FL
Age: 25
Occupation: Project Manager (future medical student)
Why she attended Heart Camp:

  • Everything in my world is changing. Everything is in transition. From my job to my home and in my family. I came to Heart Camp because I felt called, called to pause and dream about what's next. To pause in the midst of the whirlwind and to find some direction. Instead of finding direction, I found my voice. I finally came to the realization that my story is worth telling. I finally understand that speaking my truth in love is one of the most powerful things I can do. I learned the worth of my story and gained the bravery to walk it out. I found my voice. 
  • Heart Camp is one of those few moments when time stands still. When the whirlwinds of change halted and I and 42 other people got to pause, dream, speak up, share, and most importantly be supported in our bravery to be fully ourselves. All that to say, if you are wondering if you should come, you probably should. 

Danielle Summers
Home: Nashville, TN
Age: 27
Occupation: VP of Customer Care
Why she attended Heart Camp:

  • I attended Heart Camp because I am looking at starting/running a segment of our company that is focussed on connecting and supporting non profits that enable creatives to keep creating. I went to plan the future of this, but I found not only the tools to help plan, but a needed perspective and community there. Basically, I not only had my expectations met, but exceeded. It was a great reset to start the year. If anything you've read about Heart Camp sparks your interest, I highly recommend going.

Drew Sykes
Home: Raleigh, NC
Age: 32
Occupation: Writer & Social Media Manager
Why he thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • Heart Camp is a workshop of story-sharing and writing that serves as a reminder of what we are capable of through self-care and believing in ourselves. It’s a community, a safe space, a spark of inspiration on multiple levels. We all came from different backgrounds and have different struggles, but we are connected and together we move forward with strength and hope.

Jennie Gillies
Home: Ontario, Canada
Age: 24
Occupation: Front desk & breakfast attendant at Holiday Inn Express / Respite worker & child minder for Algoma Family Services
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • You will find your truest self in a group of 40+ strangers. Nobody has any expectations of you when you are there which means you can leave all expectations of yourself behind. You make new family members who skip the friend stage and immediately become your biggest supporters. At Heart Camp you have the option to speak up and share or stay quiet and listen and everyone is okay with your choices.
  • Go to Heart Camp because the ocean and the beach behind the hotel is full of magic and hold the perfect stomping ground for beautiful experiences.
  • Go to Heart Camp because if you’re struggling with self love, soul love, other people love or any kind of love-- you will find it in the most unlikely of places. Your heart is welcome there.

Anna Johnson
Home: Birmingham, AL
Age: 24
Occupation: Grad student & Pediactric psych RN
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp: 

  • Heart Camp is a place where brokenness is redeemed in newly blossoming and/or reigniting passions. Dream new dreams. You share your heart and you don’t get rejected. In fact, your heart and story are fully embraced! Walk with others with similar hearts, passions, and stories. Grow in ways you would never imagine. Learn how to bring community people are thirsting for back into your community.

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Annie Brinkman
Home: Sykesville, MD
Age: 18
Occupation: Working with disabled people
Why she attended Heart Camp:

  • I have struggled for most of my life with a variety of mental health issues. I came to Heart Camp hoping to find a way to incorporate my story into my writing to reach people and to learn how to be genuine and honest with the people in my life about my struggle. 

  • Along with finding what I was looking for, I also found hope, support, love, and safety that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.

Melanie Brinkman
Home: Sykesville, MD
Age: 58
Occupation: Stay at home mom
Why she attended Heart Camp: 

  • I came to Heart Camp for inspiration and found it in overwhelming abundance. But I also found so much more - acceptance, healing, empowerment, laughter, tears, support and motivation. My early career was in the financial arena working for Merrill Lynch, banks and mortgage institutions. Then I was lucky to have 22 incredible years of being a stay at home mom. Now I am facing an empty nest soon. Walking into a new stage of life with outdated skill sets and feeling a bit baffled about what to do next, Heart Camp drew me in with its call to live authentically and vulnerably, the encouragement to explore writing creatively with the foundation of serving others. I went to Heart Camp in search of a new purpose. Upon arrival Heart Camp wrapped me up like a warm, fuzzy blanket and made me feel safe and secure. It gave me the space and freedom to either quietly absorb or to speak out and hear the echoes of "me too", "tell me more", or "I'm here for you", resounding back. Heart Camp challenged me to be my very best self and also helped me to feel supported in facing my own shortcomings and struggles. It sparked lots of ideas to explore and gave me food for thought that I continue to process. Heart Camp is a place to meet new friends who are willing to join you on your journey or at the very least cheer you on as you take that one next step. I am very grateful to Jamie for providing the opportunity and nurturing the right environment because Heart Camp is an experience I will never forget.

Jennifer May
Home: Sugar Land, TX
Age: 34
Occupation: Local Government Manager
Why she thinks you should go to Heart Camp:

  • Pain is pain, and it is as real as it is universal…and each time we create spaces where bravery can outweigh fear – and love can shine brighter than the bruises that sometimes haunt our souls – we redeem our pain. Heart Camp is definitely one of those beautiful, redemptive spaces.
  • If the news on your Twitter feed is anything like mine, it’s a pretty constant reminder that today’s world is so filled with hate, exclusion and injustice. Sometimes it’s good to just put our phones down and focus on the love and beauty in the world. 
  • Ever thought back to your answers to the where-do-you-hope-you-are-in-X-many-years questions? If you’ve done well with the school-career-other-personal-accomplishments portion of the list but still can’t check off the dreams not entirely in your control (for me, marriage and children), it can be way too easy to only feel the pain of waiting. #HEARTCAMP is a great place to add new dreams to the list – dreams you know will bring meaning to your life, even as you still hope and wait.
  • All of us have beautiful stories to tell, and sometimes you just need some encouragement from 40+ new friends to help you find the courage and confidence to begin sharing yours. 
  • Because Heart Camp isn’t just a weekend, it’s a family.
 Photo by Kenneth Westphal

Photo by Kenneth Westphal

Kenneth Westphal
Home: Bay Area, California
Age: 26
Occupation: Photographer
Why he thinks you should attend Heart Camp:

  • I think people need Heart Camp in the same way that children need summer camp and the like. A space in which we are loved and accepted for who and what we are. A space where we are encouraged to grow and ask and speak and sing and dance and cry and hug and love. A space of our own, that we share with people from all different walks of life. If anyone thinks that they don't belong at Heart Camp, I would say that is the best reason for them to go. There is something there for everyone. Every single person walks away from Heart Camp not knowing just how much they needed it, for one, or thirty-seven different reasons. 

(It's my turn now.)
Ashton Ray
Home: Birmingham, AL
Age: 23
Occupation: Communications manager & writer
Why I think you should go to Heart Camp:

  • You deserve it. 
  • Have you ever walked into a room where you were completely and fully accepted before people even knew your name? Have you had strangers believe in you no matter what? The community at Heart Camp is just that. It's accepting and supportive and real and you need to experience it for yourself.
  • It's a space where dreams are encouraged and hearts are welcome whether they are whole, broken, or healing. It's a safe space for everyone. 

As you can probably tell, we're all really glad that we attended Heart Camp. We believe in what Jamie is doing and I think, if you give the weekend a chance, that you will too. It may not be easy to get there and it might require you taking risks, but it's so worth it. I promise, you won't regret joining Jamie and a bunch of incredible strangers in Melbourne, FL next month. 

To learn more, click here. 

I really, really hope that you go. I promise, you won't regret it. 

Header photo by Kenneth Westphal