Saturdays were the worst for Ariel Dejesus when it came to her battle with alcoholism. It was the perfect day to drink because she knew she had all of Sunday to nurse her hangover.
When she decided to sober up, she needed something to occupy her Saturdays. So she turned to Gangsters for Christ, a nonprofit street ministry.
There, she saw boxes full of donations for the needy. When she saw the resources depleted in a matter of minutes, she thought she had to do more to provide for her community.
“It really humbles you… and you look at the things you have, and you count your blessings,” Dejesus said. “I had this epiphany: That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”
With 10 years of experience as a tattoo artist, Dejesus said, she can complete tattoos quickly and can use her skills to collect donations. In her driveway sits a trailer filled with donated toiletries, clothes, tents and non-perishable goods. The size and detail of the tattoo depend on the donation.
“When I share my link to donate, you don’t get many people,” Dejesus said. “But when you offer something, like giving them a tattoo they’ve always wanted — about once a month I put a post up, and I have to take it down within seven minutes of putting it up because I’m already completely booked.”
Samantha Wheeler, 32, has received about 15 tattoos from Dejesus and donated to her cause several times.
“She genuinely cares about people, and she’s very committed to helping the homeless,” Wheeler said. “I don’t know any other tattoo artist that would really want to donate their time.”
The tattoo artist’s two billboards in Fort Worth display a message that sums up why she does her donation work: for Christ.
“I wanted to catch someone’s attention,” she said. “I use my God-given talents to help other people. Tattooing for Christ is just me showing agape love that God has through tattooing.”
“Tattooing For Christ,” her upcoming self-filmed documentary, premieres Aug. 7 on her YouTube channel.
Dejesus’s booking and event manager, Alexis Landry, has known her since sixth grade and said the best word to describe her is humble.
“She’s giving, selfless, sweet, she’s a great mother even to her stepson — you wouldn’t ever be able to tell it was her stepson — and that’s how life is supposed to go,” Landry said. “She realized she can utilize her talents to do something greater than herself, and that’s one thing I commend her most for.”
Not everyone shares her sentiments of unconditional love, Dejesus said. Her history with alcoholism, as well as her husband’s previous experiences with homelessness, have taught her compassion, she said.
“People don’t want to help because they think they just want their next high or be drunk again,” Dejesus said. “That’s not our place to judge. Our place is to (give) unconditional love to a complete stranger. We’re here so they can be saved before something happens because we never know when it’s our last day.”
Giving back to those in need hasn’t been without challenges, though. Dejesus usually hands out donations alone and said fights often break out between donation seekers, but that doesn’t stop her.
“It’s dangerous but you have to trust that if you’re going to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God’s going to lead you,” Dejesus said. “If it’s your time, it’s your time.”
Dejesus tattoos out of Inksanity in Crowley. But she’s looking to open her own tattoo shop focused on charity and youth ministry.
“I truly believe there’s a reason for me,” she said. “It’s to make people smile and to provide stuff other people cannot.”
Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.