Eryca Gischlar with Melissa Gaunt, owner of Melz Alfieri Salon.

For years, Eryca Gischlar has been an advocate for the Autism community. The Steinert High School sophomore has hosted bake sales, raffles and other fundraisers to support her younger brother’s school, Eden Autism.

This year, however, Gischlar wanted to expand her outreach beyond Eden to help more people in the community.

Gischlar has teamed up with Melz Alfieri Salon in Hamilton to host an Autism Cut-A-Thon in April. On select dates throughout the month, 50 percent of the salon’s proceeds will be donated to the Hamilton Township School District to benefit Autism programs in the middle and high schools.

Gischlar worked with the owner of the salon, Melissa Gaunt, to organize the fundraiser. Gaunt’s son Travis is also a student at Eden Autism, and she welcomed the opportunity to raise awareness and money for the autism community.

“We need to support these young people that suffer everyday with their challenges,” Gaunt said. “And as a local merchant, I want to do whatever I can to help the community.”

Gaunt’s son was diagnosed with autism when he was just 21 months old. The now 25-year-old recently moved out into a group home, and Gaunt said a large part of his success was being so involved with the autism community.

Gaunt with her son, Travis

“We were so fortunate to be accepted into that community,” Gaunt said, adding that having support from others who understand what it’s like to raise a loved one in a world that’s so different is vastly important. “We just feel beyond blessed.”

Now, Gaunt is spending her time giving that same support to others.

At her salon, Gaunt provides autism-friendly haircuts for clients. “We will give the person a structured caring experience so they can expect the same result every time,” she said.

Despite not liking the feeling or sound of getting a haircut, Gischlar’s brother, Matthew, has been getting his haircut at Melz Alfieri Salon for the past few years. Matthew’s mother, Elaine Gischlar, said he is extremely sensitive to noise and touch around his ears. During a haircut, Elaine and her husband rub Matthew’s back as Gaunt buzzes his hair in a quick, efficient manner.

“Melissa is very understanding as she has first-hand experience as a parent of an adult child with autism,” Elaine said. “She works on goals to help desensitize someone who may have issues with sound from scissors, clippers as well as tactile defensiveness—hypersensitivity to touch/tactile input.”

While Travis and Matthew attend a private school, Gaunt and Gischlar wanted to spend autism awareness month helping people outside the Eden community better understand the challenges facing autistic students. Gaunt said the fundraiser is an opportunity for classmates and neighbors to show support for their autistic peers.

The Autism Cut-A-Thon will be held at Melz Alfieri Salon, 2222 Route 33, Hamilton. To participate, book an appointment on April 22, 23, 26, and 28. Walk-ins for the Cut-A-Thon are welcome on April 24, 25, and 27. For more information, call 609-438-9060 or visit melzalfieri.com.

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