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Tattoo artists to make their mark in helping SARA overcome funding cuts

A cut in state-distributed federal money has left Central Virginia’s Sexual Assault Resource Center scrambling for funding, but local tattoo artists hope to give the nonprofit a shot in the arm.

Ben Around Tattoos will host Tattooed for a Cause, a tattoo festival and fundraiser featuring a silent auction at Moose’s By the Creek restaurant this Saturday and Sunday to help SARA overcome more than $500,000 in cuts.

An online silent auction on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and a 5 kilometer road race next April are also scheduled to raise funds.

SARA saw an estimated $642,000 cut from its two-year budget through federal Victims of Crime Act grants, which are distributed by the state. Pandemic recovery funds brought in $70,000 to help offset the losses.

The losses equal about 60% of the SARA funding for services.

“The vast majority of our crisis services, advocacy, and counseling are funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Justice. Their funding comes from the Victims of Crime Act,” said Renee Branson, SARA’s executive director.

“That funding at the federal level pretty much dried up. We waited for a fix to pass Congress and that’s not a quick process, ever,” Branson said. “We were in limbo and had to hold off on doing some things. We were short one advocate which means our others were pulling extra duty when they were already stretched thin to begin with.”

Branson said the shortage in federal funds was a common plight of many nonprofits.

“We’re still relying on funding that sometimes is at the whim of who’s in office and that’s the case of any organization that relies on federal funds,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of it getting all gummed up in the works. It can get lost in the bureaucracy and the passage of different bills. It’s not always a matter of someone saying ‘that’s not important to us.’ It just gets caught in the crossfire.”

That, she said, is why the organization appreciates the upcoming fundraisers.

“We’re really trying to focus in terms of fundraisers to diversify that funding stream,” she said. “When one [source] gets caught up or goes sideways, we want to have other avenues. One of the things that’s been a priority for me in the six months I’ve been [director] has been to broaden our reach and let folks know who were are, to increase our private philanthropy.”

That’s where Ben Miller and Ben Around Tattoos comes in. Miller came to Charlottesville in 2001 to open and manage Capital Tattoo. He formed his own shop in 2006.

“In the beginning, I had to focus all of my energy on building the business, but 2021 marks 20 years in Charlottesville for me and 15 years of Ben Around Tattoos, and I feel it’s beyond time to give back,” Miller said.

“For the last few years, I’ve contemplated the best way to create a charity event here in Charlottesville,” he said. “During this time, I’ve discussed my desire to do so with many different clients, asking them what their favorite local non-profit was. SARA was a response that I received many times over.”

Miller said he looked into SARA and decided it would be the first recipient of the first benefit. His first move was to contact Amy Benson, of Moose’s By The Creek. The restaurant at 1710 Monticello Road in Charlottesville has been the site of numerous fundraisers.

“I’ve known Amy to host many events for many charities over the years and we have donated gift certificates regularly to support those endeavors. The most recent event we participated in, we offered tattooing on-site and I knew it was time to host our own rodeo,” he said. “I wanted her help and guidance in doing so.”

Miller reached out to fellow ink artists and others with whom he’d worked with in past fundraisers to secure auction items and talent for the event.

“Convincing tattooers to step away from their busy schedules and income to participate for tattooing for a cause was not an easy task,” he said. “However, I’m so pleased that nine artists have generously agreed to participate in this event.”

The event will go from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Branson said Central Virginia residents are very supportive of nonprofit organizations and have stepped up for SARA during its 40-year history in the region.

“Because there are so many nonprofits, getting out to people exactly who we are and what we do is very important. It helps build those relationships with people who want to support us,” she said. “The decision to support an organization, whether through time, talent or treasures, is a very personal decision. It’s not an easy decision for people to say ‘where do I want to invest my treasure?’ It doesn’t matter whether it’s a $5 monthly contribution, a planned gift or a major gift.”

Branson said SARA’s services have expanded from immediate assistance to sexual assault survivors to long- term counseling, advocacy, education and prevention. Those topics are not always the easiest to discuss.

“A couple of weeks ago we had a cocktail fundraiser and someone said ‘Renee, when you think of people having a good time and toasting one another, sexual violence seems like a pretty heavy topic.’ That’s absolutely true,” she said.

“It can be dark and heavy work, but it can also be really joyful work. We’re all about creating hope for people, that they can not only survive but thrive and have healing and hope in their lives,” she said. “There’s a lot of positivity and joy in the work we do. There’s a lot of hope.”


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