The NASCAR Foundation
The NASCAR Foundation

BJFHA: Autism has an advocate, making sure hope not only lives, but thrives

(Note: Today is the final installment of a four-part series on the four finalists for The NASCAR Foundation’s Ninth Annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. Today, Joe Vaughn of Woodruff, South Carolina is featured.)

Joe Vaughn was introduced to autism awareness somewhat by chance but once introduced, he was “all in.” Vaughn has been volunteering for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission: Provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.

VIDEO: Meet Joe Vaughn

Vaughn, a NASCAR fan of 45 years from Woodruff, South Carolina, is one of four 2019 finalists for The NASCAR Foundation’s Ninth Annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. The award, named in honor of the foundation’s late founder and chairwoman, honors NASCAR fans who are accomplished volunteers working for children’s causes in their communities throughout the United States.

The winner of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award will be determined via an online fan vote that is ongoing through Dec. 3 at 5 p.m. (ET) at The winner will be announced on Dec. 5 during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. The NASCAR Foundation will donate $100,000 to the charity represented by the award winner, with $25,000 donations awarded to the other finalists.

Involvement in the Project HOPE Foundation happened quickly for Vaughn. Check out this timeline:

  • In 2000, he met one of the foundation’s founders at a social event, and learned about the autism services being provided.
  • The next day, Vaughn visited the foundation with a check that would cover scholarships for two children, enabling them to benefit from services.
  • The following year, he was named to the foundation’s board.
  • In 2010, he became the board’s chairman.

“Over the years, I have had many people ask me why I am so passionate about Project HOPE Foundation since I don’t have autism within my own family,” Vaughn said. “I can only say that for some reason this cause has touched my heart and has really shaped the person I am today.”

The numbers attributed to Vaughn and his leadership are impressive; he has personally donated more than $1 million to the Project HOPE Foundation while helping to raise more than $2.5 million. But there’s a phrase that does Vaughn’s efforts even more justice: “sweat equity.’ Vaughn is literally hands-on during foundation construction/renovation projects, improving and expanding facilities in which services are provided.

The Project HOPE Foundation provides approximately 30 hours of therapy weekly to more than 200 children participating in various programs. If Vaughn wins the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, the $100,000 donation will support 10,000 hours of therapy.

Listening to Vaughn, he already sounds like a winner:

“I have come to appreciate the little moments that represent hours of therapy and to celebrate those moments – a 6-year-old who smiles at their mom, an 8-year-old who says his first words, or a teenager who shops independently at the grocery store for the first time.

“There’s no reason for anyone’s child to get second-best just because they have a disability. They deserve the best possible facilities and tools to work with, so they can be all they can be.”

Other nominee profiles: Angela Hamby | Todd Smith | Bob Behounek