UpstateBizSC Non Profit Minute

The Who’s on the Move, BizSC, Non Profit Minute is a quick, two minute interview in support of the amazing impact that local non profits have on our communities.

Lisa Lane, Executive Director, Project HOPE Foundation

Project HOPE Foundation is a Greenville-based non-profit that provides a lifespan of services for people with autism. Started in 1997 by two moms who were desperately seeking services for their young sons after they were diagnosed with autism, Project HOPE Foundation now serves more than 200 families across the Upstate, providing life-changing ABA therapy for children and young adults on the spectrum.

Autism rates are rising (currently 1 in 59) and the need for services is urgent. Hundreds of children in South Carolina are currently waiting for services, mainly because the Medicaid reimbursement rates for autism therapy in SC are among the lowest in the country. And most funding sources do not cover the cost of providing autism treatment.

Click HERE for video.

USC Highlights Alumnae's Accomplishments

Cause for hope

2 moms' nonprofit give lifeline to families coping with autism

When Susan Sachs’ son Michael was born in 1992, autism was still a relatively rare diagnosis — one in 2,500 children — and public awareness was slight.

“Michael had a normal development, he was precocious, talking early, walking early, and then, just within a matter of weeks, we lost him,” says Sachs, the pain in her voice still fresh. When Sachs says “lost,” she means that her happy, communicative son slipped into the abyss of autism, withdrawn and non-communicative. 

At the time, she didn’t know Lisa Lane, another mother in South Carolina’s Upstate region. Lane’s young son, Colby, would also be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. But both mothers learned about a therapy called applied behavior analysis, or ABA. It seemed like the only life raft in sight.

“The autism diagnosis is very traumatic, and it’s frightening. When I saw ABA therapy and the potential that it could hold for my child — and I know Lisa felt exactly the same way — 
I recognized in one moment that it was going to be life-changing for him. Whatever I had to do to have it, as a family we would do it,” Sachs says.

Now considered the gold standard for children with autism, ABA therapy was difficult to find back then and typically wasn’t covered by insurance. Sachs and Lane met while their sons were sharing the same early interventionist, and their fierce commitment to finding help for their sons soon expanded into a desire to help other families in the same boat.

South Carolina alumnae Susan Sachs, left, and Lisa Lane launched Project Hope to help their own sons and others on the autism spectrum. Twenty-two years later, their foundation has helped hundreds of families across the state.

In 1997, Sachs and Lane formed a nonprofit called Project HOPE Foundation to establish a preschool for children on the autism spectrum. Sachs’ and Lane’s education at Carolina was vital for launching and running the foundation — Sachs had earned a master’s of social work in 1979 and had 10 years of corporate management experience, while Lane had earned undergraduate and master’s degrees before completing a law degree in 1986. 

By 2007, autism awareness had become far more mainstream — one in 59 children are now diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder — and funding became available for ABA therapy on a statewide level. The problem was still that few providers were available. 

“So parents knew there was this wonderful, evidence-based, life-changing practice out there, but they couldn’t find it,” Lane says. “We were able to start another program under our nonprofit that would provide ABA therapy, and that has now grown to serve about 300 people every day at our six clinics across the Upstate and in Greenwood.”

In fact, Project HOPE’s clinics are now primary training sites and places of employment for more than 200 staff members. The daily therapy is intensive and can be exhausting, but the results are gratifying. Most children with autism who receive ABA therapy make significant, measurable progress, and nearly half of them are eventually able to mainstream into society. The number often improves if therapy starts before age 3.

When Wendy Rothermel’s son Cade was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, her family life was upside down, punctuated by his frequent temper tantrums. A trip to Disney World ended early because of Cade’s erratic behavior, and the Rothermels huddled together, unsure how to help him. They soon connected with Project HOPE, and Cade’s therapy began. 

There’s two things that got us through this, and I’m not going to be shy about it — Project HOPE Foundation and the grace of God. Without those two, I don’t know where we would be.

Wendy Rothermel

“When he started, he was doing about 30 hours a week, and this was intense one-on-one with his therapist. It was tough as a mom because I would think he was doing too much. But I’ll be honest with you, the first few weeks we were able to get potty trained, and life just started changing,” Rothermel says. “We still had things we had to adjust to as a family, but immediately we had results.”

Seven years later, Cade graduated from HOPE Academy and started fifth grade as a mainstream student in a regular school. 

“He went to camp this year for the first time,” Rothermel says. “I would have never thought it possible that he would be able to go to camp and spend the night by himself with no therapist, with nobody he knows, but he did it. He took care of everything. 

“There’s two things that got us through this, and I’m not going to be shy about it — Project HOPE Foundation and the grace of God. Without those two, I don’t know where we would be.”

Not every child on the autism spectrum achieves that level of success at Project HOPE, but everyone makes progress day by day, Sachs and Lane say.

More than 20 years after launching Project HOPE, Sachs and Lane point with pride to the adult employment program their foundation supports. They’re also making plans for a future residential facility for adults on the autism spectrum who need some level of social support to live by themselves. But there is still a long way to go. Project HOPE’s resources are limited, and more providers of ABA therapy are needed throughout the state. 

“We’re constantly looking at ways to serve more families,” Sachs says. “Everyone needs hope.” 

Posted on: April 3, 2019; Updated on: April 3, 2019
By Chris Horn,chorn@sc.edu, 803-777-3687

Greenwood Women Care Awards Grants

Greenwood Women Care (GWC) recently awarded grants totaling $47,625 in their first annual granting cycle. Eight local nonprofits serving residents of Greenwood County received awards ranging from $2500 to $10,000.

Greenwood Women Care, an initiative of the Greenwood County Community Foundation, is a membership organization of community-minded women who pool their annual contributions for collective grant making and local impact. GWC membership is currently 120 women and is open at all times. For more information, see: www.greenwoodcf.org/greenwood-women-care/or contact: gwc@greenwoodcf.org.

Upstate Parent Magazine features Sensory Suite at the Well

Families of children with special sensory needs can now enjoy events at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, sharing family time and making memories in a setting that includes all.

The Well now includes a Sensory Suite designed with community input to meet the unique sensory needs of those who have difficulty processing the sights and sounds of a typical arena show. The suite is part of an ongoing effort by the arena’s management and staff to be inclusive to all needs and abilities. That effort began with offering Friendly Access Sensory Safety Kits that include comfort tools for guests at all events.

“I recognized quickly that families weren’t coming to an arena event because a member of their family wasn’t comfortable here,” Beth Paul, General Manager of the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, said. “We wanted to remove that barrier.”

Without many examples upon which to model the suite, community organizations, including The Meyer Center, Project HOPE and the Center for Developmental Services, as well as the families they serve, were asked to provide feedback on the suite’s development.

“It did start with trying to find ways to break down barriers,” Paul said. “It’s more than just remodeling a room. It takes creating a culture that is welcoming. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

Representatives of The Well received training from Project HOPE before the sensory kits were made available.

“We continued training and we continued talking,” Paul said. “We have extended these initiatives into recruiting and our workforce.”

Tickets for the suite will be available for purchase for events, including hockey games, during which the view will not be obstructed. For other events, ticket holders can ask for access to the suite as a calming space. The suite debuted to guests at the recent Kelly Clarkson concert. Clarkson was so impressed with the idea that she talked about it from the stage. Upcoming concerts by Eric Church and New Kids on the Block will offer tickets to the Sensory Suite as well.

In addition to meeting sensory needs, The Well also offers Skate, Roll and Stroll days where families with children with disabilities can explore the ice in their wheelchairs or walkers, walk on the ice or be pulled around the ice in a sled or wagon.

“It’s a commitment that we’ve made,” Paul said. “It has to be a culture and something inherent in the business.”

To learn more, visit http://www.bonsecoursarena.com.

Bon Secours unveils sensory-friendly suite at the Well

GREENVILLE, SC - There’s a new way for fans sensitive to loud sounds or bright lights to enjoy a show comfortably at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

With space for as many as 14 people, the suite was designed to be a safe haven for those with sensory needs, particularly those on the autism spectrum.

The suite is decorated with calming gray walls, large and comfortable seating, beanbag chairs, and sound and light dimming glass so families can watch the show in a private and quiet room. There is also a “de-escalation” area in the suite with a privacy curtain and calming accessories and lights.

Project Hope Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Lisa Lane says taking her son Colby to shows in the past has been nothing but challenging, and that this new suite is a game-changer for other families with children on the autism spectrum.

“We struggle with sound, we struggle with people being next to us, we struggle with meltdowns,” she says. “It was always a gamble. We'll buy a ticket and hope it works out. To have a space now that I know, if we come we're going to enjoy the whole event and we're going to enjoy it start to finish and together, is something special.”

The Project Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides services for the autism community, worked with the Bon Secours Wellness Arena’s General Manager Beth Paul and other therapists to design the room.

“It started with conversation, and us listening,” Paul says. “We know that we’re on the very forefront, maybe the first!”

Families were able to test the room during a Kelly Clarkson concert Saturday, March 30th at the Well. Clarkson praised the suite during her show as a unique example for venues worldwide.

“All you venues across the world, this is the coolest thing to be inclusive, it's a sensory suite,” she said. “Everybody gets to enjoy the show!"

The “Sensory Suite” on the main floor level is now taking reservations for the Eric Church show on April 26th and 27th and New Kids on the Block on July 10th. For more information, click here.

Click HERE for WSPA video, HERE for WYFF video, and HERE for Fox Carolina video.