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.

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.

Women Giving of Spartanburg include Project HOPE among Grant Recipients

Women Giving for Spartanburg announced its 2018 grant awards at its annual meeting this week. This year, the organization gave a total of $196,642 in financial assistance to seven local nonprofits.

Angels Charge Ministry will receive $25,200 to open a third Home of Hope; Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Upstate will receive $22,192 to fund Bigs in Blue & First Responder Mentoring; Mental Fitness will receive $31,450 to build depression prevention modules for the SHARPEN app with mental health and suicide prevention experts and other local professionals; Northside Development Group will receive $25,000 to fund a Reading Nook at the Franklin School; Project HOPE Foundation will receive $37,000 to construct a playground designed to improve life for children with autism; Spartanburg Art Musuem will receive $20,000 to develop technology that will enhance teaching; and TOTAL Ministries will receive $35,800 to purchase and install an outdoor freezer that will be accessible from inside the food pantry.

“Announcing our grant awards is always the highlight of our year with Women Giving for Spartanburg,” Chairwoman Susan Jeffords said in a statement. “This is what we are about. There are so many nonprofits doing wonderful work in our community, and through our collective giving framework, we are able to support their efforts.”

The group’s grants committee requests grant proposals from local nonprofit organizations each year for innovative projects focusing on areas highlighted by the seven Spartanburg Community Indicators Project areas. After review, site visits and a grants showcase, members vote on the organizations to receive money.

Membership is open to any woman in the Spartanburg community. Annual dues are $550 for junior members (ages 35 and under) and $1,100 for regular members.

2017 Hope Gala

Autism can sometimes be devastatingly dark ... but we are determined to bring light through our range of services. To fund these services, we rely on generous people like the 530 who attended our Evening of Hope gala on Saturday. Want to see what these dollars are important?  Take a look:

Empty Ink and Toner Cartridges = Funding for services

We are excited to be working with US Recycling to benefit the environment and support our programs.   We are seeking corporate sponsors to donate and recycle empty ink and toner cartridges on our behalf. We will earn cash for qualifying ink and toner cartridges that are returned to US Recycling. If you are interested in supporting this project, click here to register online and get started.  Thank you!

Benton Blount's Got Talent

Our friend, Benton Blount, has made it to the semi-final rounds of America’s Got Talent! He will compete again on Tuesday, September 1, 8:00-10:00pm. Benton has been a long-time supporter of Project HOPE Foundation, performing at our Evening of Hope Galas, our HOPE Relay, and in our classrooms! We are excited to see that he has been sporting a Project HOPE Foundation wristband as he performs on AGT.

Corky’s Wine & Spirits is hosting a viewing party on Tuesday, with proceeds going to support the programs of Project HOPE Foundation. This family-friendly event will be held at 1350D Crestview Rd., Easley, SC.