They say it’s better to give than to receive. For an organization like the Project HOPE Foundation, giving is in the fabric of everyday life. Founded in 1997, Project HOPE offers services to individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum, from classroom learning and therapy to adult services and community engagement. Much of this therapy happens through their learning center, Hope Academy, which has long been in need of a permanent home. A year ago, the organization’s vision was to construct a facility they estimated would take ten years to complete. Yet Project HOPE has found themselves on the receiving end of a very big gift from Tab and Laurin Patton, commercial property developers with no direct ties to autism.
Project HOPE is the brainchild of Susan Sachs and Lisa Lane, both of whom are mothers of sons on the autism spectrum. Early in their children’s lives, the women noticed a pressing need for accessible Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. While the women worked with therapists from across the country and recruited local folks who were willing to get certified, they founded Hope Academy as their flagship program, an inclusion-based preschool where children with autism could learn alongside neurotypical kids. Fast-forward two decades and their mission statement has grown to encompass “a lifespan of autism services.” But as their vision has grown, so has their need for useful space.
While the foundation operates its myriad services out of seven different facilities across the Upstate, the Academy has been without a permanent home, sharing space with local churches. Last year they began raising funds for a facility, but the road ahead was long. “It was difficult to see that money go into a building—that we absolutely needed—when there were still kids that needed service,” Sachs explains. The tension between their future and present needs was evident, but luckily, the choice would soon be one they didn’t have to make.
When longtime supporters of Project HOPE Tab and Laurin Patton discovered a 30-acre property out in Landrum with a fully stocked school on the grounds, they didn’t think long about what to do with it. “As soon as we drove in we were like, ‘Man, this would be ideal for HOPE,’” Tab says. Though the couple isn’t directly linked to autism, they’ve maintained support for Project HOPE throughout the years, even sending their daughter to the inclusion-based preschool. “She’s not on the autism spectrum,” Laurin explains, “but it was so wonderful . . . from the second you walk into one of their facilities, you know there’s nothing here but love.” After the Pattons found the property, they called Joe Vaughn, chairman of Project HOPE’s board. He drove out that same day and confirmed their thoughts—this was the place. When Sachs and Lane saw it, their hearts swelled. Their dream was standing right in front of them.
The Pattons gifted the school outright to Hope Academy in April. Supporters banded together to move quickly through the red tape, and by September, it opened its doors to 70 students. The value of the space manifested instantly. As Lane explains, “For our kids, there’s that sense of, ‘This is my school.’” Now, with a space to grow in, Project HOPE can focus on their immediate goal—reaching more people with the best quality of service. Tab believes, “There are endless opportunities here.” It’s clear that, with the Academy in a forever-home, the threshold for potential is high. As Laurin says, “They’re just getting started here, but it already feels like home.”