Apr 01, 2013
Karen E. Butler
AGAWAM, Mass.—When a woman visits her stylist it usually isn’t just about a cut and blow dry. The visit oftentimes leads to a little one-on-one counseling. Since the beginning of time, clients have been making their stylists confidants and advisors. According to Maria Santaniello, owner and operator of Salon 322, a listening ear and a touch of compassion are as essential to the trade as a pair of scissors and a flat iron.
A resident of Agawam, Mass., Maria, 26, opened her salon in March 2010. At first it was just Maria and her mother, Beverly Santaniello, who oversees the bookkeeping for the salon. As her clientele grew, so, too, did her staff. From the start, Maria was determined to give back, encouraging her staff to join her in support of local charities.
CUTLINE: Staff at Salon 322 pose with Tanya Pugliano (center), who battles multiple sclerosis. Last year, salon owner Maria Santaniello, Agawam, formed, in honor of Tanya and her other clients living with MS, a Bike MS fundraising team featuring Salon 322 staff and their families and friend. Photo from back left: Beverly Santaniello, Agawam; Karen Lafleur, Agawam; Danielle Burns, Agawam; Sarah Anderson, Enfield; and Brittany Morris, Springfield. Bottom left: Maria Santaniello, Agawam; Tanya Pugliano, Agawam; and Becky Signet, Agawam. The team, Scissor Me Timbers, will saddle up again this year for the 2013 Bike MS: Red Thread+Steelcase Ride on Sunday, June 2, in Windsor, Conn. For more information, visit www.ctfightsMS.org.
It wasn’t difficult to identify worthy causes. Most clients return to the same stylist month after month, year after year. Over time, relationships are developed and struggles come to light.
“It’s funny, a stylist can become a refuge of sorts for people needing a break from the daily struggles of life,” said Maria, who admits that career success goes far beyond a stylist’s ability to wield a pair of scissors. “The skill to listen to the life stories of our clients, allowing them to debrief, relax and find common ground, results in lifelong relationships. Before we know it, we are emotionally invested in the lives of others.”
Tanya Pugliano, 40, also of Agawam, began visiting Salon 322 soon after it opened. Diagnosed in 1999 with multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating disease, Pugliano was forced to begin using a wheelchair about four years ago. Each time she visits the salon, she is met with open arms. In fact, salon employees meet her at her car and help her to her wheelchair.
“Everyone at Salon 322 goes above and beyond,” said Pugliano, whose diagnosis came just after the birth of her daughter. “I get emotional. All the stylists mean so much to me.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans, like Tanya Pugliano, live with multiple sclerosis. The effects are unpredictable and can include numbness and tingling in the extremities, difficulties with vision and speech and in severe cases, complete paralysis. There is no cure for MS.
Last year Maria and her staff, which now includes five additional stylists, a spray tan technician and a nail technician, decided to honor Tanya and their other clients who are also battling MS by forming a fundraising team, Scissor Me Timbers, to participate in Bike MS.
“It was almost comical,” remembered Maria, with a giggle. “We arrived at the ride like the ragtag Jamaican bobsled team in the movie ‘Cool Runnings.’ Donned in loose-fitting tees, we looked around us and saw smartly dressed cyclists in their custom-fit jerseys riding shiny high-tech bicycles. Having never cycled in an event before, we showed up with our well-worn mountain bikes and one-speed beach bicycles. It was very funny.”
But if they didn’t look the part, their actions spoke loud and clear. In its first year, Scissor Me Timbers raised almost $3,500 to support the fight against multiple sclerosis. In the year that’s passed since her first ride, Maria has worked to increase her ranks. This year’s team will sport 32 members, including Maria’s mother and father. Her stylists are already collecting donations; each has a large Mason jar at her station. The salon has also gathered prized recipes from clients and assembled a cookbook which will be published this spring. Proceeds from book sales will benefit the team’s fundraising.
“It really is about giving back,” said Maria, who has signed on to ride 25 miles – this year on a brand new road bike. “Our clients are our friends. They are generous and kindhearted. They make it easy to reach out and give back.”
The Scissor Me Timbers team will saddle up for the 32nd annual Bike MS: Red Thread+Steelcase Ride on Sunday, June 2, in Windsor, Conn. The ride, which offers a second location in Westport, Conn., on June 9, attracted almost 1,000 cyclists last year, raising more than $500,000. This year the ride is expected to raise $539,000. Funds raised through National MS Society events, such as Bike MS, ensure ongoing research to find better treatments and cure. These funds also provide for programs and services offered by the local chapter to those in the state battling multiple sclerosis.
Finish line festivities include a barbeque lunch, live entertainment, free massage therapy and more.
“It means so much to me to know that there are people in this world, like Maria, who will always go the extra mile,” said Pugliano. “I am incredibly touched that they have teamed up in my fight. It touches me. They’re the best people.”
Additional MS fundraising opportunities in the Western Massachusetts area include Walk MS in in Northampton on May 4 and Springfield on May 5. For more information, visit www.MSnewengland.org. For more information on the 2013 Bike MS, Red Thread+Steelcase Ride, presented by Louis Dreyfus Commodities, or to donate to the Scissor Me Timbers fundraising team, visit www.ctfightsMS.org.