Petaluma Tattoo Artist Raises Funds and Awareness for Cause Close to His Heart: Suicide Prevention

– Nick Rodin
Nick Rodin Petaluma Tattoo

Nick Rodin sits in his Petaluma Tattoo shop and pushes up his sleeve to expose the least ornate tattoo on his otherwise art-filled arm.

“God Speed,” it says. The words are black, the lettering simple.

“After my brother Andrew died, I had my father tattoo that as a memorial. He was a motorcycle racer,” Nick explains.

Nick lost his younger brother and a best friend both to suicide within two months. It was the fall of 2009, and Nick’s pain and sadness were so great that he couldn’t talk about it for nearly 10 years.

“But when I finally did start talking, I realized I felt a little better each time,” Nick says. “And then I saw that many of the people I spoke to also had experienced loss or near-loss. They felt the same way I did. I started thinking we could have these conversations on a larger scale.”

So, the veteran tattoo artist made it happen. He began hosting an all-day tattooing event at his shop every September to draw the community together for open conversations about a difficult topic and to raise funds for suicide prevention. For every tattoo inked, Nick and his fellow artists donated 100 percent of the proceeds to mental health care advocates.

Buckelew Programs is immensely grateful to be the chosen recipient for the last two years.

“I always knew that when I opened my own shop, I wanted to do this every year to honor my brother,” Nick says. “I lost my brother in September. His birthday is in September. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The timing made perfect sense.”

This year’s fundraiser on Sept. 9 was his largest yet, drawing renowned tattoo artists and enthusiasts from all over the Bay Area and beyond. People began lining up outside Nick’s cozy shop in historic downtown Petaluma at dawn so they wouldn’t miss their chance to get a tattoo for Buckelew.

Thanks to additional donations from food and beverage sales, the event raised a whopping $14,731. Now Nick says he’s fired up to raise even more next year.

Petaluma Tattoo’s generous donations help support Buckelew’s suicide prevention youth outreach, education, and operating one of California’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline call centers. At a time when suicides have steadily increased by 25 percent nationally over the last two decades, these services are more vital than ever. Buckelew is able to do its important work thanks to such charitable community giving.

Nick says he finds healing in fundraising and connecting people so they can talk about a too-often taboo topic.

“Suicide touches so many people,” he explains. “The customers come here and meet other people who struggle with depression or have lost someone to suicide. They arrive as perfect strangers and bond here.”

Connecting tattoos, suicide awareness, and mental health came naturally to Nick and the other artists, many of whom say their lives also have been touched by suicide.

“As artists, we’re doing this job where we connect with people emotionally,” Nick says. “Tattooing is just so personal. Many people get a tattoo to memorialize someone they lost. Or they get a tattoo that reminds them of their own struggles and how they carried on. It all falls right in line with the healing process.”

Tattoos also let survivors know they are not alone.

Struggling with mental health or losing a loved one to suicide can feel lonely, isolating, even shameful. But when an individual recognizes a symbolic tattoo on another person, they know they are part of a larger community with shared experiences.

Certain tattoos have gained universal meaning and become powerful messages of support. A green ribbon is the international symbol of mental health awareness. A semicolon represents the idea that a person’s story is not over. A rose with a broken stem symbolizes a life cut short. A heartbeat represents hope or fighting for life.

Nick admits he feels a little selfish because he benefits so much emotionally from organizing his annual event. At the same time, however, he knows the pain of his losses will never completely disappear.

“I still have a hard time talking about it,” he says, “but I also feel like I have a responsibility.”

Want to learn more about Nick and his fundraiser? Watch these news features: