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.”