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 Herald Journal Features Project HOPE

As ratio of children diagnosed with autism climbs, one Spartanburg agency hopes to expand services

Twenty-five years ago, Lisa Lane knew little about autism, and less about how it would impact her own life.

Today, the organization she co-founded and directs with Susan Sachs — the Project HOPE Foundation — provides a lifeline for Upstate families searching for answers in the wake of an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Launched as a specialized effort in 1997 as Lane and Sachs were seeking therapy for their young children, Project HOPE Foundation has grown into a multi-county clinic serving families with loved ones who have autism across a continuum of services and therapies from birth through early adulthood.

They’ve been on the move in recent years, adding a Spartanburg location at 200 Elford Court just a year ago to help Hub City residents better access their services. And now the group plans to unveil a new location in Landrum later this year.

Project HOPE Foundation spokeswoman Amanda Harley said the group expects to move most of its Hope Academy classrooms to one central location in Landrum. While a specific location has yet to be announced, Harley said the move will allow the foundation to consolidate its school operations and free up space in some of its existing buildings for other programs.

For Lane, it’s just the latest step in a journey that began in 1996 when her then-18-month-old son Colby began exhibiting symptoms that left her searching for answers. Following her intuition, she attended an Upstate autism conference at Converse College. Just 20 minutes spent listening to the stories of other families left her convinced.

Autism diagnosis leads Simpsonville family to Project HOPE

Becki and Tommy Plumer felt that something wasn’t quite right with their son, Jack, early on.

At 18 months old, he couldn’t link his words together, his mom said.

Then he had trouble grasping a crayon.

And he couldn’t engage socially with people.

Eventually, their sweet little boy was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and their search for help led them to the Project HOPE Foundation.

“It's been a blessing for us,” Becki Plumer said. “He has just thrived with this program.”

The foundation provides services to more than 200 children with autism including education, support and individualized applied behavior analysis therapy. It also offers social groups and other programs for adults.

The nonprofit was co-founded in 1996 by Lisa Lane and Susan Sachs — now both executive directors — after their sons were diagnosed with autism and services were hard to come by.

Lane said that with the condition now affecting 1 in 68 children, the need for Project HOPE’s services is more critical than ever.

“Literally hundreds of children are waiting for services, and that number is growing every day,” she said.

“Unfortunately, most funding sources do not cover the cost of providing autism treatment," she added. "We rely on the generosity of our supporters to be able to provide these life-saving interventions for children, youth, adults and families who are living with autism.”

One of the foundation’s major fundraisers is An Evening of Hope, a gala event that begins with a cocktail reception, dinner, and live and silent auctions followed by music and dancing.

The auctions include items such as two tickets to see “Hamilton” at the Peace Center with dinner and hotel, two VIP passes to watch a live filming of America’s Funniest Videos in Hollywood with airfare and accommodations, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and a hot tub from Hot Springs Pools & Spas.

Last year, the event raised more than $1 million. This year’s event is being held on April 28 at the TD Convention Center.

“Last year’s Evening of Hope gala was a phenomenal success,” said Sachs. “We are always amazed at the generosity of this community. As an organization, we know that every minute matters and every dollar counts. "We hope to once again raise lots of dollars so that we can provide many more minutes of service.”

The Plumers, of Simpsonville, spent three years on a waiting list to get Jack into Project HOPE, Beckie Plumer said. And while they waited, Tommy, a vice president at Synnex Corp., launched a golf tournament to benefit the school.

Since Jack, now 11, began going to Project HOPE three years ago, he’s made incredible progress, his mom said.

“At HOPE, classes are so small. It’s only eight children and a teacher and assistant,” she said. “They can pinpoint where he needs to be."

Socially, she said, Jack is now able to understand other people's facial expressions and vocal tones and engage with them. And academically, he's making great strides, improving in writing and math especially.

"He is a completely different child," Plumer said. "At HOPE, he gets understanding and support. We'll stay as long as we can."

For tickets to An Evening of Hope, go to

2015 Hope Academy Holiday Program

The night began with the poised and commanding presence of a young adult with autism who once banged his head against concrete floors. It closed with beautifully enunciated words delivered by a young man who was speechless until the age of eight.

In between was a steady stream of extraordinary “ordinary moments.”

Tiny elves jingled bells and smiled out with joy at the 300+ spectators in the audience – a sight for which it is impossible to prepare. A set of reindeer hokey pokied their way into our hearts and we saw bravery in action as composure was quickly gained despite emotional upheaval. Children, who once paid no attention to other people beamed at their families, festooned as happy Christmas trees. Preschoolers just learning gross motor skills line danced across the stage and lassoed our attention with their snazzy cowboy costumes and fancy footwork. First graders who are just emerging verbally stepped up to the microphone to tell jokes and worked the crowd like vaudeville pros. A class made Santa appear before our very eyes – as we watched in amazement at their equally magical ability to wait and to take turns. A group who is learning social skills along with their academics demonstrated a range of emotions, including a blue Elvis, a distant girlfriend, and a cheerful Christmas tree– and actually held hands to take their bow! Second and third graders conveyed their memorized lines with perfect timing, tugging on a stuck Santa and collapsing on the floor on cue, all without losing self-control. 4th and 5th graders with sensory issues donned storm trooper masks and handled light sabers. Another group of 4th and 5th graders caroled us with bells, never losing their composure even when a bell slipped away. A K5/1st grade group, some with autism and some without, blessed us with their acapella rendition of “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” with synchronized sign language and sincerity shining on every face.

Hope abounded tonight.

SCISA Accreditation Team Visits Hope Academy

On Thursday, March 26, Hope Academy hosted an accreditation team from the South Carolina Independent School Association (SCISA). Dr. Victoria Oglan, Todd Kirk, and Janie Goodman spent the day touring Hope Academy’s inclusion classes and Bridging the Gap classes as well as reviewing school records, curriculum guides, and plans. The team's feedback was overwhelmingly positive in every area of evaluation. Special thanks to Pam Townsell and Suzanne Hyman for their extensive document preparation, to Stephanie Martin and Kelly Fairbairn for serving as Board representatives for this visit, and to each teacher for demonstrating the good work that is happening every day in our classrooms.