The Big Give

At Salon 926, altruism is a year-round business.

From left: Salon 926 staffers Kristin Guhl, Dawn Bantivoglio, Kerri Marioni, Belinda Harper, Jackie Menardy, Shayla Martin and Rita Marioni

It’s one thing to donate coats to shelters and drop change into needy coffers over the holidays—that’s the spirit of the season, after all. But for salon and spa owner Kerri Marioni, charity has no predetermined season.

Every February, Marioni and her staff at Salon 926 in Wilmington, Delaware, cook meals for families staying at the local Ronald McDonald House. In June, the salon holds a popular cut-a-thon and pet adoption day, donating all proceeds to local animal charities. In September, Marioni donates a percentage of the spa’s income to the International Myeloma Foundation. This month? It’s all about the poinsettias. “We sell them for the local SPCA [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals], which is a no-kill shelter,” Marioni says. “Our clients are really animal people and they’re so charitable and loyal!” Which is exactly the sort of thing Salon 926 clients would say about Marioni.

OK, let’s start with February.
That’s when we volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, usually over Valentine’s weekend. [Ed. note: The House hosts visiting families of children who are seeking medical attention for serious illnesses at the nearby Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children.] Many of our clients have benefited from that amazing hospital. The staff goes all together to cook meals. We even bring nieces and nephews to get involved.

You’re also involved in animal charities?
We do events for the SPCA and the local Humane Society. This June, we did our first benefit for Angels Among Us Animal Sanctuary, a volunteer shelter that takes in senior dogs. We start at 11 a.m. and finish by 4 p.m., doing haircuts and services at about a 25% discount across the board. All the money goes to the shelter. We also have dogs in the salon! It’s a really fun day.

But the annual Myeloma Foundation Fundraiser is personal for you, isn’t it?
Yes, in September it was seven years since my father died from multiple myeloma. He was born September 1, 1926—that’s where we got the name for the salon. After he passed away, I struggled. Opening a salon kept me busy and focused on good stuff. For the month of September, we donate a percentage of the month’s entire sales to the Foundation. It’s a group that really supported my family when we were learning about this disease. We felt like we could call them anytime with questions.

How do you publicize the event?
We put up a big banner outside and send press releases. The staff hand out pamphlets about the Foundation and tell clients my father’s story. We also sell raffle tickets. I always ask local businesses to donate gift certificates for the raffle. Last year, the Phillies sent us a signed baseball and some autographed pictures.

How do you get your staff so motivated to participate?
I have the most amazing team of girls. I kind of hire people based on their hearts—just making sure they’re in the same place. Who we are and what we do is about more than just hair. We want to make an impact on the lives of people in our community. When it comes to hiring, I find that you can always help people grow their talent but you can’t turn them into a nice person.

How do you select charities?
Well, we do the Delaware Humane Society because I’m an animal lover and have good friends who’ve worked there for a long time. Even before I owned a salon, I’ve always worked on benefits for animal shelters. Clients also ask me to get involved in various causes and I try to be open-minded.

Do you see a rise in business from all your good works?
We have definitely gained business through our animal charity work. And we’re also now on the Ronald McDonald website and people come to us because of that. Of course, that’s not why you do it, it’s not your intent, but it does end up helping. It also allows our clients to see what kind of people we are and why we do great work.

What would your dad have said about all this?
He actually never wanted me to open my own business because he thought I’d have to work too hard. But I love my work! My father was a builder, so we did some stuff for Habitat for Humanity after he passed and donated his car to them. He always loved that about me and my brother and sister, that we try to give back as best as we can. It’s a rewarding feeling for everybody involved. Not just for us, but for the people who received and who participated.

Like your staff?
Yes, I love what it does for us as a group. We want to see how much money we can raise, and we get so excited if an animal gets a home. The clients get excited just hearing us talk about it. They always say to me, ‘It’s so friendly in here and everyone’s so respectful to each other.’ But, that’s just the way we are. I mean, I clean the toilets if they need it, I don’t care! We’re all like that here. Nobody’s better than anyone else. When I look around, I’m so proud to be part of such an amazing group of women.


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