The board meeting was over and they were enjoying appetizers at Applebee’s when someone mentioned getting inked.
Mourning Hope was about ready to launch a capital campaign to build a house.
A big house to help kids who are grieving. The first house it would ever own in its 25-year history.
They were going to call the campaign “Make Room for Hope.”
Tell you what, said executive director Carly Woythaler-Runestad. If someone gives us a million dollars, I’ll get a tattoo.
“It just circled around the room,” she said Tuesday. “Pretty soon, there were 20 staff and board members saying, ‘I’ll get a tattoo, too.’”
It was a bit of a joke. (OK. Mostly a joke.) After all, who would give their little nonprofit a million bucks?
And then an anonymous someone did.
And Woythaler-Runestad went off to Iron Brush Tattoo and had HOPE spelled out on her left wrist.
Mourning Hope board president Jason McCown bared his left shoulder and a funky font spelling out HOPE appeared there.
A Mourning Hope staffer, Kate Holman, opted for the moon and stars and a sun.
And so it went.
A few board members offered to get a tattoo when the campaign reached $2 million. (Check.) Or a tattoo if they got to $3 million. (Check, check.)
Or $4 million. (Hoping to check soon.)
A volunteer for the organization went big — Mourning Hope in 5-inch-tall letters across his bicep.
Another employee asked for a heart, near her own heart, with crystals inked in purple and yellows, Mourning Hope’s colors.
It was Pam Dinneen’s turn Wednesday.
“I always told my kids, ‘No tattoos, no tattoos, no tattoos,'” the Mourning Hope founder said as she waited for the ink-filled needle.
Their bodies were perfect without markings, she told them. Besides, a tattoo is permanent. What if they changed their minds?
And they listened when Mom told them she wasn’t following her own advice.
“They think it’s cool. They’re on board with it,” Dinneen said. “Even my 90-year-old parents like it.”
In 1992, Dinneen was at a conference of school counselors when a session leader asked participants to share a dream with the person next to them.
“Ours were both kind of the same,” Dinneen said. “To have a place for grieving kids and families.”
Kay Kronholm was a middle school counselor from Millard. Both women served on the crisis-response teams at their schools. So the pair started meeting at a truck stop in Greenwood to plan. They traveled to grief seminars and learned the best teaching models and programs.
That dream for helping grieving kids and families became Mourning Hope.
The support group met at Belmont Rec Center and Sheridan Lutheran Church. The founders held classes at Lux Middle School and found space in businesses before finding a house to rent in University Place.
Over the years, as Mourning Hope grew, Dinneen served on the board and helped with training and directed summer camp. Monday, she became its first clinical operations director.
On her third day of work, she consulted with tattoo artist Ann Loaris. Dinneen showed her what she wanted. One special four-letter word.
They picked a spot on her left forearm, high enough so her watch wouldn’t cover the tattoo. They made sure the colors were just right.
Loaris told her what to expect. Some pain, she said. “Kind of like a cat scratch.”
Woythaler-Runestad held Dinneen's right hand. A half-dozen board members and volunteers and employees peeked over the front counter to watch.
Hope appeared in a sweeping cursive font, the “o” filled in with Mourning Hope colors, and spikes, like sunbeams, spreading in an arc.
They clapped when it was over and Dinneen flicked her wrist to show it off.
And then, it was board president-elect Nancy Bare’s turn.
Three more million-dollar tattoos are scheduled for next week.
It’s a quirky story, Woythaler-Runestad said. Ridiculously silly, but endearing.
“That’s the word I keep going back to. It brings tears to my eyes.”
It’s a cool thing, McCown said. And he likes the idea that it’s not a uniform tattoo. Not a brand.
“People are coming up with their own spin of what Mourning Hope means to them.”
It’s more than tattoos, Dinneen said. “It’s a way of showing our commitment.”
Mourning Hope’s 14,000-square-foot home is a hole in the ground right now. The foundation will be poured soon.
The organization is inching closer to its $4 million goal and a few board members are holding out for the final push.
That’s when Sue Kittinger plans to get her tattoo.
She knows what it will say.
“The word hope,” she said. “In Pam’s handwriting.”