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.”

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.

Project HOPE Children's Play featured in Index Journal

A little more than a year ago, Jill Ginn’s son, Luke, was unable to speak or eat solid foods.

Luke, 4, falls on the autism spectrum, and learning and interacting with others can be a challenge.

On Wednesday, Jill watched as Luke took the stage and spoke in front of a crowd of people during a play put on by Project Hope — something she said would have been hard to imagine not long ago.

“Since he’s been here, they potty trained him within one day,” Jill said. “It’s been amazing. He speaks in full sentences. He doesn’t read, but he memorizes the pages every three days so they have to change his books every three days. It’s just amazing. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”

As part of the production, Luke and 13 other children on the autism spectrum, sang, danced and spoke to the crowd of loved ones who gathered at Project Hope.

Project Hope, a nonprofit that specializes in helping children with autism, opened its Greenwood location in September 2016 at the former Merrywood Elementary School site.

Jill said since it came to Greenwood, the organization has been a godsend for her and her family.

“I don’t have enough good things to say about them here,” she said. “It’s been a complete blessing. I’m thankful.”

Niki Porter, the Greenwood clinic coordinator, said the play gave the children a chance to showcase their progress to their loved ones.

“I think what sometimes happens is, with these kids in other situations when people don’t know how to get them through stuff like this, they don’t really get to participate,” Porter said. “That’s something we try to avoid. So we try to showcase everyone’s individual talents. Even if they’re just sitting up there and smiling, that’s an improvement for a lot of our kids. They wouldn’t have been able to be in this room because of all the stimulation a year ago.”

The children began rehearsing the play about a week and a half ago, Porter said, starting with listening to the music and gradually learning the motions and lines as they progressed.

Porter said she was impressed with their performance Monday and happy they had the opportunity to demonstrate their progress to their families and friends.

“Today’s performance was the best they’ve ever done, and that’s something you can’t prepare for, especially when you have parents around, because you never know what they’re going to do,” she said. “But all of the kids were rock stars.”

Amber Kneece, whose 4-year-old son Coby also participated in the play, said watching the performance was an emotional experience.

“It’s a joy just being able to see him sit on stage and say some words,” Amber said. “When he started at Project Hope, he was completely nonverbal, so it’s been such a blessing.”

Porter said she hopes to make the play an annual event.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it again next year,” she said. “And then we’ll see some of the kids who had smaller parts this year will have bigger parts next year or who were speaking less this year may speak more next year or whatever it may be. We’re just trying to grow on our progress every single year, because for every child, a milestone for them is going to be different.”

Murals Brighten Greenwood Campus


When artist Rebecca Salter Harrison first walked into the Greenwood Project Hope campus building, she noticed a lot of empty, white walls.

Harrison came to the campus at 133 Merrywood Drive, site of the former Merrywood Elementary School, to do a commissioned art project – to create colorful murals on some of the walls.

Project Hope Foundation serves people coping with autism spectrum disorder. Established in 1996, there are now several campuses, including the one in Greenwood. 

In 2016, Project HOPE Foundation entered into a collaboration with Greenwood Genetic Center – Helix & Hope – combining science and services, and began offering center-based applied behavior analysis therapy to clients in a multi-county area.

Read entire article here.