Saturday, June 25, 2017, was marked by a rainy but bright morning in Barry, Ontario. The long main street usually keeps quiet in the early weekend hours, but this day was different. The street came alive with the buzzing of the excited crowd stretched around the block in anticipation for the doors to open at their local tattoo shop. On that very day, the shop owners and artists knew they’d work tirelessly with a single goal in mind – raising funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
In our increasingly global society voluminous matters attract the attention of millions of people, but how many of us can run a successful fundraiser for something significant to us? Andrew Batten is one of those guys. In fact, the entire staff of the Unique Ink Custom Tattooing and Piercing Shop geared up to help bring their community together with a simple semicolon.
The Project Semicolon was founded in 2013 by Amy Bleuel. Battling depression, anxiety, and self-harm from a young age herself, as well as losing her father to suicide she started the movement with a powerful symbol of perseverance – a semicolon.
Semicolon’s literary use is to show that a sentence is not yet finished and for those struggling with a mental illness it serves as a potent reminder to continue writing their life story. The project is a globally recognized non-profit organization in support of mental health advocacy, and the semicolon symbolizes hope that may have been lost to those affected by suicide, mental illness, self-harm, and addiction.
After suffering the loss of Amy in March, the project now carries her legacy with an even stronger aim to prevent suicide and continue changing millions of lives, one individual at a time.
Andrew Batten is a part-owner and artist at the Unique Ink Custom Tattooing and Piercing Shop in Barrie, ON. As someone who has battled anxiety, PTSD, and depression, Andrew wanted to use his regained focus and desire to persevere to give hope to those in his community who needed the same reminder as he once did. The charity event he has put together with everyone at his shop combined the semicolon tattooing and money drive to collect funds for the CMHA.
We came to Unique Ink on the day of the fundraiser to learn a little more about the meaning that the Semicolon Project holds for the artists and customers at the Unique Ink. With almost no room for a breather, Andrew took a short break to meet me personally and discuss a few things with regards to the movement.
“I know I’m not alone,” he said, “it feels like you’re alone when it’s happening, but at the end of the day you’re not alone. So that’s what made me think about [starting this fundraiser].” Andrew shared that having struggled with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as well as having to take some time off to work on these issues recently, was a blessing in disguise. In fact, his situation ended up being the driving force behind organizing this fundraiser for CMHA. “I was trying to make best of a personal situation; it’s not a financial thing to the shop, it’s to help another business that once helped me [and which continues helping] people going through similar experiences as me,” he explained.
The shop has been around for almost 7 years to date. Living in Barrie all his life, Andrew described the city as vivacious. With a college and a nearby military base, this small vibrant city offers a unique combination of resident turnover with new faces arriving every year. “There are always new people in town,” he said illustrating it as a reason why many small businesses survive and prosper. He shared that many students and those situated at the Borden Canadian Forces Base share in his experience of battling mental health issues, making the fundraising event at the Unique Ink ever more relevant to their tight knit community.
“We’ve had guys from the Borden Base and First Responders coming in with PTSD,” he said, “so many [other] people came that I didn’t even know support this [cause] and were affected by it.” Indeed, the entire shop was filled with people, patiently waiting to get their Semicolon of hope tattooed. Andrew stated that “we all got here together for a reason and we’re trying to help each other. We’re all human, we all share it”.
Many visitors like city councillors also joined in to drop off money for the CMHA. The Mayor of the city also came in to show his respect and extend the support, after communicating with Andrew on social media with regards to attending this event.
Andrew stated that it wasn’t only the money drive and charity tattooing. The shop additionally organized raffle winnings in combination with other local businesses, which went live on Facebook to benefit participants of the charity event.
On June 25th the whole community pulled together bringing in the power, support, donations, and, of course, lots of food for the artists and their guests. By the time our interview took place, they have already tattooed over a hundred people in just a couple hours. This wasn’t the first time that Andrew organized a charity event either. With tons of small businesses around his city, his shop has previously promoted and raised money for a local animal shelter two years in a row.
Unique Ink plans to turn the CMHA charity into an annual fundraising event. With plans to expand the space throughout their new larger shop situated just across the street from their original location, Andrew is sure that they will be able to continue comfortably accommodating large crowds for this event in the future. Given the evident success of the fundraiser and the yearly addition of new faces personally affected or wanting to extend help to those struggling in finding hope, it is sure to become one of the many wonderful things that the city has to offer.
“Just don’t let them forget why I was here because that’s what’s important.” – Amy Bleuel.
The official mission statement of the Project Semicolon reads: “Within the belief that suicide is generally preventable, the mission of Project Semicolon is to help reduce the incidents of suicide in the world through connected community and greater access to information and resources. We believe that suicide prevention is the collective responsibility of each and every person on the planet.”
If you want to get involved with the Project Semicolon, please visit their official website.
For additional information about the Canadian Mental Health Association please visit their official website.
If you experience suicidal ideation please contact a suicide prevention hotline. Some online chats and hotlines are available 24/7. Please check for the phone, chat or SMS hotlines in your region here: