Ahwatukee tattoo shop embraces suicide prevention

The team at Wookie Style Tattoos in Ahwatukee includes, from left, Terry “Wookie” Hoffman, Barbi Blattenberger, artist Kris Cagle and apprentice Megan “Kappie” Wilson. (David Minton/AFNStaff Photographer)

Terry ‘Wookie’ Hoffman, owner of Wookie Style Tattoos in Ahwatukee, knows firsthand the pain of loss from suicide.

Between 2007 and 2017, he lost 12 people. Some were friends, others relatives.

It is this experience that spurred him to begin a suicide awareness event when he opened his family-friendly tattoo shop, Wookie Style Tattoos, at 4142 E. Chandler Blvd. four years ago.

Their fourth Annual Suicide Awareness Fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., midway through National Suicide Awareness Month.

“Everyone in our shop has been affected by suicide,” Hoffman admitted. “I firmly believe before our generation, just talking about suicide was taboo. Nobody would address the issue.

“When I opened my own business, I felt I had a platform I could use at my discretion, and I chose to do this event. Our kids, Tatum and Tanner, plus our nephew Tim, have helped every year because they’ve been affected as well.”

As in years past at this fundraiser, Wookie Style Tattoos offers free semicolon tattoos from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Walk-ins are treated to a tattoo black and white punctuation mark that has become a symbol of suicide prevention and mental health awareness. (A picture ID is required for any tattoo.)

Wookie Style Tattoo’s co-owner and operations manager Barbi Blattenberger said the event has been a fundraising success since day one.

“Since 2018, our annual fundraiser has been an amazing day of hope and healing for those affected by suicide, raising over $11,000 for charities,” she said, adding:

“This year we will continue our mission to raise suicide awareness, remove the stigma associated with mental wellness, and reinforce compassion and support for individuals and families that are still struggling.”

All artists and staff donate their time and materials to ensure 100% of the proceeds go to charity.

Blattenberger explained the semicolon’s usage, undertaken as a worldwide September project by tattoo artists worldwide.

“We do the free semicolon tattoos because the semicolon represents a point where the writer could have ended the sentence with a period but chose to keep going,

“Your story isn’t over” proclaims the 9-year-old nonprofit Project Semicolon, and Hoffman and his wife Blattenberger are in strong, passionate agreement.

“The author is you; the sentence is your life,” said Blattenberger.

Their Suicide Awareness Fundraiser isn’t just about free semicolon tattoos at Wooky Style Tattoos, either.

“On Sept. 17 we have licensed social workers on site to provide counsel, advice, and support should anyone need immediate assistance. We lighten the mood by doing raffle prizes and giveaways from local businesses, and this year we’ll even have puppies with Love Connection Dog Rescue there later in the afternoon with adoptable rescues,” said Blattenberger.

The shop also created a “Remembrance Wall” in the shop where people can post pictures of loved ones lost to suicide.

“We keep each and every photo and repost them every year,” she said. “It’s important to us to remove the stigma associated with suicide, and the Remembrance Wall is how we honor their memory, the good times, the smiles and laughs, to dispel the myths that suicide is selfish, weak, or shameful,” she continued.

“This year we continue our mission to raise suicide awareness, remove the stigma associated with mental wellness, and reinforce compassion and support for individuals and families that are still struggling.”

On the Wookie Style Tattoo’s Fourth Annual Suicide Awareness Fundraiser, flash tattoos that incorporate the semicolon symbol in more extensive and decorative artwork, are available for $50, as are additions to semicolon tats from previous years.

Personally, Hoffman and Blattenberger have dealt with the shadow of suicide within their own family, and share their story to help others.

“Our child’s first suicide attempt was at 13, the second was freshman year of high school, and again sophomore year. We did everything in our power – inpatient, the best adolescent psychiatrists, medication, counselors, art therapy, even experimental treatment – and just when we thought it was getting better, a day at the pool revealed the self-harm scars,” she said.

“Powerlessness is watching your child struggle with demons you didn’t even know they had, and just when you think it’s getting better, there’s a dark day.

“Fear is falling asleep every night, knowing that no matter how great of a day they had, tomorrow might be the day they decide they can’t do it any longer. Tatum is 19, has come a long way and we’re so proud of the progress.

“We have a very open dialogue, and I’m grateful to say they come to us when they’re struggling, for the most part. Tatum is willing to share their story because they’ve learned that talking about it might help even one person feel safe enough to open up, get help, and keep going.”

Though Sept. 17 is a big day for Wookie Style Tattoo, the subject is a year-round topic and concern. The shop keeps the Suicide Awareness Fundraiser information and mental health contacts on their webpage WookieStyleAZ.com

“There are slideshows to emphasize education on how mental health affects everyone – veterans, chronically ill, substance abusers, trauma survivors, our teens, and first responders,” said Hoffman. “We try to keep the page up to date with links to the latest information and resources such as how to create a crisis plan.”

Scar cover-up following surgery, injury or self harm is another service offered at Wookie Style Tattoo where their artists are OSHA certified in Bloodborne Pathogen Standards, an optional certification in Arizona.

Hoffman said all materials at the shop are sterile, single use and disposable. Vegan ink is used to minimize the risk of allergy or adverse reaction.

Veterans and first responders always receive 10% off any services at Wookie Style Tattoo.

Since opening the first tattoo shop in Ahwatukee four years ago, the community has proved supportive.

“I admit to being a bit nervous when we first opened but I was blown away at how well we’ve been received,” said Hoffman. “Ahwatukee has some good people here.”

“We’ve had so much support from the community, from letting us post our Suicide Prevention Fundraiser fliers in their businesses, printing the flyers for free, donating raffle prizes, and even matching donations,” added Blattenberger.

For more information see Wookiestyleaz.com or phone 480-599-0584.

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