The earliest roots of Ink Release can be traced back to Ellensburg, WA, home of Central Washington University, where our founder Jim Meyer was finishing his Bachelor's Degree in Sociology. Jim had always had an active interest in exploring what makes people tick, especially while being influenced by social situations. These explorations dug deep into a variety of social constructions, including two seedling ideas for Ink Release: How people are influenced by their own preconceptions (judging a book by its cover), and, Why do some people strive toward conformity while others pull toward diversity? These examinations, along with a few others, would become some of the first guideposts for the emerging foundation of a new service organization.
One of the most valuable cognitive influencers Jim had while growing up (although he didn't yet realize it) was that he was raised within a politically split family: Dad's side conservative Republicans, and Mom's side liberal Democrats. This made for some interesting Thanksgiving dinners, to be certain. However, it gave him an opportunity to occupy a position he enjoyed immensely, as sort of a "chair umpire" at a tennis match, who sits between the two sides and scrutinizes the exchange for evidence of unfair attacks, as well as valid points. Through years of this, Jim came to realize that there can always be some common ground found, and if both sides were to combine their energy toward shared goals, some real progress could be made.
Once out of school, Jim spent a number of years climbing the corporate ladder, eventually serving as Operations Manager for a large Seattle construction supply company. While there, Jim interviewed several hundred applicants for the many job positions that would come and go within the company. Every so often, a hopeful candidate would arrive for their interview sporting a "non-traditional" hair color/cut, piercing, or tattoo. Jim would then have to, regrettably, inform them of the company's strict policy against such ornamentation, and whether or not they would be willing (or able) to remove it. This would often lead to an unfortunate disqualification of an otherwise ideal new hire, and as Jim would come to find out, this issue would appear with increasing frequency.
At that time, Jim had worked to cultivate friendships with several other hiring managers in the area, in several different fields, and would often hear their opinions regarding the job candidates that they had recently seen. On the whole, tattoos and piercings were not spoken of favorably. Now, Jim is a pretty tolerant fellow, and has always admired tattoos as an expressive art form, but sometimes policy is just policy, and that has to be the end of it if the company heads have so chosen. He remembered back to when he was first hired on, that the final condition of his own hiring was to "lose the earring", and he remembered feeling relieved that his pierced ear was a lot easier to deal with than a visible tattoo. However, through the years Jim would endeavor to help others to overcome their own tattoo prejudices and to see not only the beauty of the workmanship in a tattoo, but also to see the person behind the ink, and what they might be capable of.
Several years passed, and then came a move to Bremerton, to take on a position with CENCOM, Kitsap County's 911 Emergency Response Service. This organization dispatches Law Enforcement, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services to all points within the county. Jim soon found that he had a knack for this sort of work, and although it would often involve helping callers through the worst moments of their lives, he felt reassured that it was his calling in life to be closely connected to his community and to serve as an advocate for those in need. As part of the job, Jim would often process reports involving personal descriptions of perpetrators, runaways, and missing persons. One of the descriptive categories was "SMT's", or, "Scars, Marks, or Tattoos". It was amazing to see that over time, as the younger population would age, the presence of tattoos was increasing geometrically, and was showing no signs of slowing.
As rewarding as the work was for him, the job is known for the toll it takes, and this is why 911 workers will often leave the occupation after just a few years. When it was time to leave, Jim carried with him all the well-wishes for success from the staff and other Kitsap community leaders he had forged relationships with over time. On the recommendation of a friend, Jim was delighted to accept a position at Habitat For Humanity, assisting with their migration from West Bremerton to their new location in East Bremerton. Their nonprofit mission of building simple, decent, affordable housing was right in line with Jim's experience in the construction industry, coupled with his wish to be involved in meaningful, transformative work in strengthening the community. It was during this time that all of the core elements for what would become the Ink Release mission would begin to materialize.
The workers at Habitat come from a wide variety of backgrounds. A few are paid employees, but the vast majority are volunteers. Of the volunteer workforce, some are professional journeymen and craftspeople donating their time and expertise, some are there because they have some extra time in their lives and wish to contribute to the betterment of their community, and some are general laborers who are there because they've been assigned community service by a judge. However, if there's one thing that unites all workers at Habitat, high or low on the chain, it's the fact that at some point everyone is going to be doing some hard manual labor. Loading and unloading trucks, carrying plywood sheets, or plumbing supplies, or boxes of ceramic tile... it's all a part of their mission.
On many occasions, Jim would spend time with these workers and hear stories about their difficulties in life, or how they had limited themselves by questionable choices they had made. Many of them had, at some point, opted to get visible tattoos on their face, neck, or hands, and had experienced firsthand the unspoken disapproval of a hiring manager whose subtle eye-tracking may have been more obvious than they would have thought. Others would dismiss them on sight by coming right out and telling them, "I don't think this position is a good match for you, but thanks for coming in." The problem is, a tattoo is a form of a vestment, which by definition is somethingthatclothesorcoverslikeagarment. However, tattoos are vestments that can neither be put on nor removed by the wearer, without assistance from another person, and that assistance, on both ends, is expensive.
As time went on, Jim began to see a pattern forming, wherin a person who had gotten a tattoo in their youth had then aged to a point where the added responsibilities of life began to impose a much heavier burden, requiring more income to match. However, they were caught in a "Catch-22" in that to get a better paying job, they needed to get rid of the tattoo, but they couldn't afford the expensive removal procedure because they had a low-paying job. These stories were arriving with increasing frequency, and they reminded Jim of the 911 calls involving people who seemed to be stuck in a loop from which they were unable to escape. If there were only some way to help... it would be a rapid life-changing improvement... but there are so many who need help, and the problem is largely unknown, except to those who are experiencing it.
At that point, the light bulb came on. There was a way, but it would take some time and dedicated team effort to get the project off the ground. Fortunately, Jim already knew several talented people who were positioned to be of service, and enthusiastic about the potential mission. As luck would have it, their schedules were at a point, or close to a point, where they were all available at the same time. The mission would require the formation of a new nonprofit corporation, structured as a 501(c)(3) charity. The company would raise funding through direct individual support from the public and grants from private foundations to create a mechanism through which vetted clients could receive no-charge tattoo removal service. This service would be available to treat only visible tattoos (face, neck, hands, etc.), and only to those who could not otherwise afford it, so as not to be in direct competition with local for-profit clinics.
In March of 2016, work began in earnest to formulate a timeline, budget, and strategic plan that would bring the concept to life, and on June 27, 2016 Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman signed the new company, Ink Release, into existence. On September 22, 2016 the IRS granted the company tax-exempt status, making all donations to the company tax-deductible to the donor. By October, the company's initial startup GoFundMe campaign reached it's goal of $5,000, and along with a much-appreciated "seeding" grant from Microsoft Philanthropies, the website was launched, and the company began full operational deployment. At the first annual meeting on December 14, 2016, new CEO Jim Meyer welcomed the attendants, and congratulated all involved for their efforts and dedication to this new nonprofit. It was the culmination of many months of preparation and research.
In the time since, Ink Release has formed additional partnerships with Amazon Smile, Fred Meyer Community Rewards, Kitsap Great Give, GuideStar, and several other like-minded community service projects. Today's efforts are geared primarily toward two principal and concurrent goals: Funding an active "bucket" (as the accountants call it) for clients' tattoo removal service, and the other being to pay off the significant expense of the laser equipment. Together with our "Volunteer Army" we continue to raise awareness of this issue in our region, and advocate for those in need of help. We invite you to explore our company and our cause, so that you may help us to write the next chapter in our history. Together we can light a path that will last, and in so doing, we elevate ourselves, our neighbors, and our community.