Patrick Lomantini, owner of Lomantini the Salon in Wichita, Kan., and founder of BarkAID, will visit Newtown with his team of two other stylists, Alexis Longworth from Ohio and Zachery DiBella from Idaho, on Tuesday, August 6. It will be one of the first stops on his third annual 50 States in 50 Days BarkAID fundraising tour.
The traveling hairstylists will join forces with Michele Schettino of Salon Michele, located at 6 Queen Street, to raise funds to support Kitten Associates, the home foster-based cat rescue group in Sandy Hook.
Mr Lomantini founded BarkAID five years ago to support animal rescue in Wichita. The organization, currently seeking 501(3)(c) status, started out as a means for the business owner to differentiate himself from the “thousands of hairstylists” in the nation. The first BarkAID (the name was inspired by Willie Nelson’s FarmAID), was a fashion show fundraiser. Then, said Mr Lomantini, three years ago he raised money for the Kansas Humane Society by cutting hair for 72 continuous hours.
A week after the cutathon, “a friend double-dog dared me to outdo myself,” Mr Lomantini said. The friend was not barking up the wrong tree — in a short time, the plan for the 50 State Tour was taking shape. After eight months of researching and organizing, the first 50 States, 50 Cuts, 50 Days Tour was underway.
Nearly two months of days filled with travel, haircuts, and an average of two hours sleep per night had been a successful fundraiser, but not one he was anxious to re-create.
“I really had no intention of doing it again,” said the hairstylist, despite the incredible response he had received. “You feed off that energy of the people along the way,” he said.
After a few months rest, though, “Why not do it again?” he thought. The end of last year’s tour, which as in the previous year included a stop in Hartford, convinced Mr Lomantini that he had created “a beautiful monster. I knew that I needed to build relationships for consistency in fundraising [if I wanted to continue the 50 States in 50 Days BarkAID Tour],” said Mr Lomantini. With the help of a Kansas PR firm, he is working to make BarkAID “what the US Humane Society is not — an organization that actually reaches out and is there, in communities,” he said.
When Ms Longworth and Mr DiBella offered to travel with him in 2013, he knew that he could do the tour again.
Finding His Way To Newtown
A lifelong animal lover, Mr Lomantini was not able to own pets as a child, he said.
“The only interaction I had with dogs was cleaning out kennels for my uncle’s hunting dogs,” he laughed. But his relationship with a woman who was “crazy about animals” taught him the value in supporting animal shelters and assisting others to help animals in need.
“Shelters perform a function in our society that many people never see,” Mr Lomantini said. “I’ve come to realize that raising awareness is as important as any of the money raised,” he said, and he believes that his over-the-top productions do just that.
“Some towns where BarkAID has visited, people are inspired to do more to help with animal rescue, and to build upon it,” he said.
Animal rescue people have a way of finding each other, and that is how the 50 States in 50 Days has ended up this year in Newtown.
“Our Connecticut stop for the past two years has been kind of evasive in Hartford; so there was buzz on Facebook that we needed a stop in Connecticut this year,” he said.
Robin Olson, founder of Kitten Associates, saw the request on Facebook. She reached out to Mr Lomantini, telling him, “We are a tiny rescue group, but we could use help.”
“I told him we would give him everything we’ve got to promote BarkAID here,” she said.
A fan of Ms Olson’s “Covered In Cat Hair” blog also reached out to Mr Lomantini after seeing the Facebook plea. “The rest,” said Ms Olson, “is history! It’s awesome that [Mr Lomantini] has turned his passion for helping animals into a nationwide effort, instead of just staying local. To think like that, on a bigger scale — that all shelters are having a hard time — that effort is absolutely appreciated.”
“Robin set it all up with Salon Michele,” said Mr Lomantini. “I’m excited to bring something unique and fun to Newtown, in light of the terrible thing that has happened there [on 12/14],” he said, “and I’m excited to help Robin. I know that these funds will make all the difference for her.”
Mr Lomantini and crew hope to snip at least 50 heads of hair while in town, and surpass the more than $100,000 raised for animal rescue in the past two 50 States Tours. That could mean approximately $1,000 for Kitten Associates.
“One thousand dollars would mean we can keep our doors open a little bit longer,” Ms Olson said. “Kitten Associates doesn’t have benefactors. It breaks my heart, how many cats are out there that need aid. We probably help a least ten cats a month,” she said.
Those cats that Kitten Associates cannot physically take in are offered help through a networking system that helps people by providing food, litter, and other necessities until a foster or permanent home can be found.
“We also work to help people understand what tools are out there to help cats. Kitten Associates has limited resources, but we do a lot with what we have,” Ms Olson said.
Ms Olson hopes that townspeople will realize that BarkAID is not just about helping Kitten Associates.
“His heart is reaching out to the people of our town. The cuts will help families in town who may be having financial problems, and provide some fun, while helping us. To get a $20 haircut from a master hair stylist is awesome,” said Ms Olson.
She stressed, as well, the generosity of Salon Michele.
“Michele is shutting her salon [to regular business] the whole day, just for us. It really is a group effort,” Ms Olson said.
It has been his experience that the smaller communities he has visited put more effort into the BarkAID event, and are more supportive, Mr Lomantini said. “We tend to raise more money [in the smaller communities], and I hope we can do that for Kitten Associates,” he said.
With the help of the two additional hair stylists, this year’s 50 State Tour should feel like much less of “a job,” Mr Lomantini said — and best of all, Ms Longworth’s fiancé, T.J. Anderson, has offered to do all of the driving.
Mr Lomantini and his crew will be offering basic dry haircuts and trims on Tuesday, August 6, from 8 am to 8 pm, at Salon Michele, 6 Queen Street in Newtown. One hundred percent of the $20 minimum suggested donation will go to Kitten Associates. Appointments can be booked by calling 203-426-4247.
A cat-centric boutique and face painting at the salon will offer additional family fun.