After attending the CMT Music Awards in Tennessee last year, Kelly Wells could not understand why her cell phone would not stop buzzing with calls and text messages at such a late hour.  She thought people were calling to say they saw her on television.  Kelly would never imagine that her friends from all over the world were frantically calling/texting her to insure she was OK and not involved with the deadliest mass shooting in US history.  In the aftermath, Kelly and her team at Stigma Tattoo Bar came up with a project that would benefit the victims and the deceased victim’s families of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy.  Kelly sat down with HotSpots Central to discuss her idea:

Can you name the exact moment that triggered you to start this fundraising idea that later turned into one of the biggest Pulse fundraising projects in Orlando?

Being away for my birthday, after waking up to multiple messages checking on us…. we watched the horror unfold on the hotel room TV or checking FB for friends updates…. We felt so extremely helpless! We were trying to think of what we could do, we wanted to make a difference. We toyed with the idea of a Pole dance workshop, maybe tattoos. Then a few people reached out to me personally & asked if we would we be offering Pulse tattoos like some other shops had started doing. We NEVER normally offer flash designs, since we are a custom only shop.  However it seemed like it was the most realistic way to make a difference. It was important to offer designs that would create a sort of unified symbol of support. We all sat & created some designs, then narrowed it to small variety of designs that would be easily recognized forever! Secondly this would streamline the tattoo process & enable us to tattoo far more people, in turn raising more money!

Can you describe what happened when you held your first event on June 18th – The Saturday after the Pulse tragedy?

We posted about the event on the Wednesday, prepped everything we could Thursday & Friday. We saw the number planned to attend growing by the hour so we knew we needed to prepare for more than the 20-30 people we originally expected.

We woke up Saturday to texts from people telling us the line of people started to build at 7am & was wrapped around the block already.  As each of us arrived that morning the crowd would see a Stigma shirt & roar with happiness. It was pretty amazing & overwhelming! We were ready to open at 12 & instantly our volunteers started to walk the line & offer water & entertainment! We got into a flow & were working our way along the line. It became increasingly obvious there were far more people in line that we could cope with. But the atmosphere was that of love & support so people were happy to sit & talk. They danced, drank & sang. We would let more people in to cool off in the AC as soon as there was space.

We started to build a list of names along the line. Taking contact info to enable us to reach out to people who were unable to wait, or who were just too far back to get in. As the day progressed we realized some were there from early morning & it was now 11pm! But instead of anger, there was love. Instead of people walking out mad, they were hugging us saying Thank you. We had NO CLUE how long people would have to wait, we certainly tried as hard as we could to keep the process streamlined. News crews were in from all over the world to talk to the people of Orlando while they were getting tattooed. It was pretty amazing to see how much could be achieved in such a short time.

As of today, how many Pulse tattoos has Stigma Tattoo Bar inked on various people?

We estimate we have tattooed Pulse designs on roughly 1000 people so far. It took about 6-7 weeks after the main fundraising day to get through the 8-9 pages of names we took that day. We promised to prioritize those that came & waited that day. We did our very best to make that happen, our artists worked with people that wanted larger custom pieces too…..working many extra  hours each day to make sure we could keep that promise was important to all of us. Even some of volunteers came back in for the following weeks to help too!

To your knowledge, how much money has Stigma Tattoo Bar raised and donated to the One Pulse Foundation?

We have donated approximately $17,000 so far.

Will there be any future fundraisers for the Pulse foundation held by your business?

We actually offered the designs again for the weekend of the 1yr Anniversary. Reducing our shop min from $75 to the $50, enabling clients to donate the $25 saving to the Pulse charity of their choosing if they chose to.

When you think back about all the Pulse tattoos that came from Stigma Tattoo Bar, can you pick your favorite one and tell us why it is your favorite?  

How could I have a favorite?  I love them all ️ That is the amazing thing, it’s not so much about the design chosen, it’s what it means to each individual.

Kelly Wells is the owner of Stigma Tattoo in Orlando (17 S Orange Ave) and can be reached at kellystigma@icloud.com. You can also reach the shop at: 407-615-6926.