How One Man inspired Hope for the autism community

Amazing article about our Chairman of the Board. So grateful for his commitment to HOPE!

By Melody Cuenca -

Jul 25, 2019

“Everybody has their mission in life, and this just feels sort of like my mission,” says Joe Vaughn, president of Vaughn Curbing and Construction.

Twenty years ago at a Christmas party, Vaughn overheard the story that inspired Project HOPE Foundation. Shortly after, he sponsored two kids through the foundation.

Today, he serves as the board chair and has helped countless families with autism. Devoting the past two decades of his life to Project HOPE’s mission, Vaughn plays an important role in the foundation’s future.

“I just really want to help kids. I’ve got a soft spot for any kid in any problem really,” Vaughn says. “And that’s what started it all back then.”

Project HOPE offers a lifespan of services for the autism community in South Carolina. Its unique, inclusive school, HOPE Academy, allows both neurotypical learners and children on the spectrum to learn in a mainstream environment.

“These parents are facing a very uphill battle, and they need all the help they can get,” he says. “That’s really the reason we got involved with it.”

The new home

Vaughn and his wife, Nikki, sent their three sons, who don’t have autism, to HOPE Academy. 

While the school has operated from a shared space since its inception, HOPE Academy finally found a permanent home — thanks to Vaughn and two other kind souls.

It all started with a very expensive phone call. Tab and Laurin Patton, friends of Vaughn, called him about a former school site in Landrum they planned to purchase as an investment.

With three buildings, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, and 30 acres, the property appeared to Vaughn as the perfect home for HOPE Academy. 

“I said, ‘Well I’ll tell you what we can do with that property. We can make a school out of it for Project HOPE,’” Vaughn says.

So, it was settled. The Pattons donated the entire property to Project HOPE. “When Joe starts in on something and with the passion that he has for the school, it’s pretty much impossible to tell him no,” Tab says.

When the Pattons first toured the property, they saw desks, computers, books, and lab beakers left from the previous occupants in 2008. 

“It was almost kind of eerie,” Laurin recalls. “I mean it was totally meant to be that this remain a school.”

Coincidentally, Vaughn envisioned a home such as this for HOPE Academy several years ago when the foundation began making plans to build a permanent home.

“Six or seven years ago, I drew this facility down on cardboard,” Vaughn says.

The continued mission

The school will open in September for the 2019-20 academic year. Vaughn has been working to get the site up to code and securing in-kind donations for the needed supplies and labor.

“It’s been a long road, but we’re getting to the end of it,” he says. “We haven’t had a home for 23 years.”

Although Vaughn and the Pattons have no direct ties to autism, they support the mission of Project HOPE wholeheartedly.

Founded by Lisa Lane and Susan Sachs in 1997, Project HOPE continues to serve families today because of people like Vaughn.

“You can imagine how meaningful it is to families who are living with autism to have somebody who is not living with autism step in and say, ‘I care,’” Lane says. “That’s huge on all levels.”

Lane and Sachs says the new school is a game-changer for them and moves them forward a decade. 

“We’ve been dreaming this for a long time,” Sachs says. “We have kids who will have a home school. That’s life-changing.”

The big impact

Brayden received an autism diagnosis at age 2. “We didn’t know where to go,” mother Jennifer Block says. “Through the guidance of an early interventionalist, we learned of HOPE.”

Starting with therapy at age 3, Brayden then moved into Bridging the Gap for preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. Now, the 8-year-old will attend second grade at the new Landrum campus.

“I know he would not be where he is or have made the progress he has without the individualized care he has received,” Block says.

Watching her son’s communication and social skills grow tremendously, Block says Brayden now loves to make friends.

“HOPE is a fantastic organization and has made a big difference in our son’s life as well as our own,” she says.

The fact that Brayden’s family, who lives in Fountain Inn, will commute to Landrum for HOPE Academy is evidence of the foundation’s impact.

“This new Landrum campus offers countless possibilities, and we look forward to seeing the school become even more invested in our son and his future while we sort out the rest,” she says.

About Project HOPE Foundation

After learning their sons had autism, Lisa Lane and Susan Sachs started a mission to serve the greater autism community in the Upstate. Project HOPE offers programs for therapy, education, adult services, and community engagement. With campuses in Greenville, Greenwood, Spartanburg, and Woodruff, Project HOPE’s new Landrum campus will house HOPE Academy and Bridging the Gap.

Project HOPE Foundation announces new campus location

Generous supporters donate land and school building

Nonprofit Project HOPE Foundation plans to open its seventh campus this fall in Landrum to better offer its “lifespan of services” to the autism community with the help of some generous donors. Tab and Laurin Patton purchased the property in Landrum as an investment and decided to give the entire property — a former private school and 30 acres — to Project HOPE Foundation.

Project HOPE Foundation’s new Landrum property includes three buildings with classrooms, a cafeteria, and a gymnasium. Photo provided.

Project HOPE Foundation’s new Landrum property includes three buildings with classrooms, a cafeteria, and a gymnasium. Photo provided.

The property will permanently house the Hope Academy and Bridging the Gap classes. The move will also provide room to expand the Hope Alive Junior and Hope Alive programs at HOPE’s Woodruff campus. “We are so incredibly grateful to the Pattons for this generous gift, which makes it possible for us to move into real school space — quickly, and without debt — and still leaves us plenty of room to grow,” co-founder and co-executive director Susan Sachs said in a news release.



Project Hope opening new campus in Landrum

By Connor Hughes

For the first five years of his life, Yolanda Holmes’ son Khalen was nonverbal and could never stay still or focus.

He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at a young age, and Holmes said finding support for his needs was a constant challenge.

Today, Khalen, now 9, can read, do math, and interact with other kids his age; successes Holmes credits largely to the Project Hope Foundation’s Hope Academy and Bridging the Gap program.

“It’s been a life changer for me and my family,” she said.

Project Hope, a Greenville-based nonprofit, offers a lifetime of support services for individuals with autism and their families. It’s Hope Academy and Bridging the Gap program provide a specialized education environment for students with autism.

Starting next fall, the programs will have their own home for the first time in the organization’s 23-year existence.

Project Hope co-founder and director Susan Sachs said the academy and Bridging the Gap are in the process of moving into the former Blue Ridge Christian Academy Campus in Landrum, and the three-building facility will open its doors to students in September.

“It’s very exciting,” she said.

The program currently operates out of the Temple of Israel in Greenville, and was housed at the Advent United Methodist Church before that. While Sachs said she’s grateful to the synagogue and church for allowing Project Hope to use their facilities, operating out of a shared space limits the nonprofit’s ability to grow and offer diverse programs for the students it serves.

“You can truly adapt a classroom to being yours, so from a teacher’s standpoint, that is huge,” she said. “From a program standpoint, it give us the stability that we have not had before.”

Project Hope initially planned to build a brand new facility on a tract of land in Mauldin, and was planning an $8 million capital campaign to fund it. But the continually rising costs of the Mauldin project quickly pushed it out of reach.

On April 27, the organization announced Tab and Laurin Pattin would be gifting the 30-acre property in Landrum to the nonprofit.

Renovations have already started on the three school buildings, which Sachs said include amenities such as a playground, a gymnasium, science labs, and an art room.

“We can have gardens, we can provide outside activities we couldn’t before,” she said. ”... The sky is really the limit there, because it’s our facility.”

The new building will open doors for teachers and students alike, Sachs said, and the ability to forgo the capital campaign will free up time and resources.

Holmes said she and her son are excited to get started at the new facility.

“We did a tour a couple weeks back and he is just very excited,” she said. “They’re excited about the gym, and the lockers, and being able to change their classes. He was just really thrilled about it.”




Spartanburg celebrities play hoops for good cause

By Bob Montgomery 
Staff Writer

Ricaye Harris scored with one second left to lift the white team over the blue team 39-37 in a Ball4Good women’s celebrity basketball game Sunday at Spartanburg Day School.

“I’m not disappointed,” said blue team celebrity Ann Angermeier of the Upstate Workforce Board. “Coming back from 10 down (to tie the game) was great. It was fun for a great cause. And nobody got hurt.”

Sunday also featured a men’s celebrity game and exhibition games with the Cleveland and Pacolet Boys and Girls Clubs.

Ball4Good founder Adom Appiah, a ninth-grader at Spartanburg Day School, said it’s the third year of the fundraiser for Ball4Good. Proceeds support Project Hope Foundation, an organization that serves people with autism in Spartanburg County and across the Upstate.

This year, Ball4Good also recognized three other nonprofits: Sidewalk Hope, Citizen Scholars Institute and Brothers Restoring Urban Hope.

Click photo for Video.

Click photo for Video.


The event was sponsored by the Spartanburg County Foundation and supported by the City of Spartanburg, Spartanburg schools and several community leaders.

Project HOPE Foundation was founded in 1997 by mothers looking for services for their young sons with autism. Project HOPE Foundation provides services and programs that help families, promote inclusion and teach life skills.

Anthony Ianni, a former Michigan State University basketball player, addressed the crowd in between the men’s and women’s celebrity games.

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PHOTOS: Ball4Good celebrity basketball game

He said he was diagnosed at age 4 with an autism disorder and told he would never be an athlete. He proved doubters wrong, and after graduating high school in 2007, he eventually landed on the Michigan State basketball team as a walk-on for two years, being on a team that went to the Final Four.

He was the first athlete with autism to play Big Ten basketball. He majored in sociology.

He said he is proof that someone with autism can lead a full and productive life. But it takes commitment and hard work to make dreams become a reality, he said.

PHOTOS: Ball4Good celebrity basketball game

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“Enjoy today,” he said. “Be relentless.”

Celebrity participants had a good time but also showed their competitiveness.

At one time, they gave a referee a hard time for calling a 3-second violation. Other calls were questioned as well.

“We felt slighted,” Angermeier said, smiling.

Project Hope Races with NASCAR

Forming unique alliance with 2017 SC Rookie of the Year


By Stephanie Trotter

Project HOPE supporters are revving their engines, as this Saturday’s Evening of HOPE approaches. The annual gala is the Project HOPE Foundation’s largest fundraiser, which also brings attention to autism, and the lifespan of local services available for those with the disorder, and their families. Front and center at this year’s gala auction – the shiny black hood of Colby Howard’s Pro Late Model Ford, featuring the Project HOPE logo. The exceptional collaboration of a racecar driver and the 22-year non-profit organization is generating cheers far beyond victory lane.

Howard just won the “Show Me the Money 100” Pro Late Model race at the Montgomery Motor Speedway, with the Project HOPE sun logo blazing across the finish line. “It was awesome! It was just amazing,” shares Foundation Board Chairman Joe Vaughn, whose $20,000 donation secured the top spot on Howard’s car. “We immediately had people calling from all different states because they saw the logo. Our wildest dreams imagined, would be to grab the national spotlight, and make people aware of autism all across the United States.”

Project HOPE students and young adults signed the hood of Howard’s racecar. Photo provided.

Project HOPE students and young adults signed the hood of Howard’s racecar. Photo provided.

Vaughn has been watching Howard’s career pick up speed for years. Last year, the NASCAR fan secured a small, 12” x 12” spot on Colby’s car for his concrete company. But at the start of the new season, the autism advocate paid for the hood and quarter panel to educate. He plans to keep the Project HOPE sun shining on #81 for months to come, by making an additional $20,000-$30,000 donation.

“Sometimes you would think that autism and racing would be very dissimilar,” explains Foundation Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Lisa Lane. “Our kids almost always have sound sensitivities, and nothing is louder than the powerful motors of these beautiful cars. But there are similarities. One of the defining characteristics of autism is repetition, repetitious behaviors, and attention to detail.”

Teen racing phenom Colby “The Kid” Howard knows a thing or two about repetitious behaviors and attention to detail, as he circles the track dozens of times at 110 miles per hour. The Hillcrest High junior is a third-generation stock car driver, and South Carolina’s 2017 NASCAR Rookie of the Year. The 17-year-old is competing with the Anthony Campi Racing team, as he gains traction and moves up the NASCAR circuit.

Colby Howard, NASCAR’s 2017 Rookie of the Year, is competing with the Anthony Campi Racing team. Photo provided.

Colby Howard, NASCAR’s 2017 Rookie of the Year, is competing with the Anthony Campi Racing team. Photo provided.

This Friday, the speed demon will race at Pensacola’s 5 Flags Speedway, where he hopes to watch the Project HOPE sun rise from under the checkered flag again. Saturday, he’ll head back to Greenville to attend the gala… and prom. The teen easily shifts gears between racing and school activities.

Over spring break, the student met with Project HOPE students, and young adults, on the spectrum at the Foundation’s Woodruff campus. Howard helped everyone sign the hood that will be auctioned off this Saturday. “Seeing how the kids were smiling sitting in the car, and messing with the switches, was cool,” the racer divulges. “This is definitely not like my other corporate sponsors. We’re with a really good team and hoping for a lot of success this season, and seeing how Project HOPE is involved with my racing, it’s pretty cool.”

Lane stood nearby, admiring the newfound friendships and form of awareness. “What we want for this crowd is exactly what Colby has,” she reveals. “We want them to have a passion and pursue it. What a great example, to see a 17-year-old who is able to follow his dream, and through our services, these kids get to discover what is important to them, and how we can help them get there.”

Project HOPE Foundation helping people with Autism

SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA)-- Project HOPE talks about the services they provide for people with Autism.

Click image for Video.

Click image for Video.

Project Hope shares its message via new race car

Click image for Video.

Click image for Video.

The Project Hope race car was unveiled earlier this week to help raise awareness about the services available for families dealing with autism.

Former NASCAR SC Rookie of the Year joins Project Hope Foundation supporting Autism Awareness

Woodruff, SC (WSPA-TV) - A new partnership between car racing and the Autism community is hoping to bring attention and support to families impacted by the disorder.

One teen pro late model racer is hoping to help spread the word as quickly as he can.

The Project Hope Foundation offers a lifespan of services to the Autism community.

They are partnering with Colby Howard, former 2017 NASCAR SC  Rookie of the Year and current Anthony Campi racing, driver.  

Tuesday, students and clients at Project Hope in Woodruff had the opportunity to sign the hood of the pro late model drivers racecar.

Howard’s car will features the Project Hope Foundation logo on the hood and right side in honor of the collaboration.

The signed hood, will also be on display at the evening of Hope gala, the nonprofit organization’s annual fundraiser and auction, at the Greenville Convention Center on Saturday, April 27.

To sign up for the gala and attend visit  https://www.projecthopesc.org/eoh

Click HERE for Video.

Here’s more about Project Hope Foundation

project hope foundation provides a lifespan of services for the autism community, through programs that help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential. We are broad in our scope, serving across ages (from two to young adults), across the spectrum of autism, and across programs (aba therapy, classroom options, adult employment, social groups, life skills, community outreach, professional trainings). We are individualized in our approach, seeking to meet the unique needs of each specific person. Founded in 1997 by moms looking for services for their young sons with autism, project hope foundation offers programs that benefit not only the child affected with autism but also the entire family, all of whom are forever changed by this DIAGNOSIS. WWW.PROJECTHOPESC.ORG