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Through an organizational merger, a pandemic, and a change in leadership, United Way of East TN Highlands was able to overcome the obstacles to raise $1,561,398, an increase of more than $300,000 compared to last year’s campaign of just over $1,260,000. When 2020 started, United Way of Washington County began their work on merging with United Way of Elizabethton, Carter & Johnson Counties. A catalyzed process pushed this merger through and was completed by June of 2020, creating United Way of East TN Highlands. The merger allows United Way to reach more people in need than ever before, but COVID-19 has also presented its own set of challenges.

With the increase of donations to the annual campaign and donor designated funds, United Way of East TN Highlands has been able to create unprecedented impact starting with a proposed increase for allocations to nonprofit agencies. In 2020, the formation of an Emergency Relief Fund created immediate COVID-19 relief of $180,000, with an additional $50,000 that will be available in the first half of 2021, and $35,000 that will go towards future disaster relief needs. Additionally, through an anonymous donation, $105,000 is being invested in 5 communities (Washington County, Johnson City, Carter County, Elizabethton, and Johnson County) to create Financial Empowerment Centers, $85,000 to create a Social Innovation Fund, $52,500 to be invested into our school systems.

“Our donors really stepped up when our communities needed it most. We couldn’t be more thankful to be a part of the immediate relief that has been needed in our community,” said Leslie Salling, President & CEO of United Way of East TN Highlands. “While this short-term relief has been a huge need in our community, we have kept our eyes on long-term solutions to cyclical problems. We believe that the new initiatives have the ability to be a heavy part of the long-term solution to the 48% of our households that struggle to make ends meet on a monthly basis.”

Emergency Relief Fund

United Way of East TN Highlands created the Emergency Relief Fund in 2020 to quickly respond to needs that arose from COVID-19. Donors acted quickly as well by designating their donation for the Emergency Relief Fund to create immediate impact for local households. “Among the many who received relief, one family really stands out in my mind,” states Crystal Carter, Director of Community Impact at United Way of East TN Highlands. “When you see a single mother walk in after being furloughed from her job as a nurse, it makes you think of every healthcare professional who is out there fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. I was so happy that we had the ability to provide food gift certificates and gas cards so that this single mother didn’t have to decide between food on the table, or paying this month’s rent.”

The fund has been actively used for COVID-19 relief and will continue to be used as such until our region has recovered. The future of this fund is to serve our population through any type of pandemic, disaster or unforeseen circumstances. A donation to this fund is a step towards the next recovery that needs to be made, because while emergency situations are unpredictable, they are also inevitable.

Community Impact Fund

The United Way of East TN Highlands’ Community Impact Fund has been serving our community for nearly a century through funding nonprofit programs located in Washington, Carter, Johnson & Southern Sullivan Counties that are focused on the health, education and financial stability of our region. Benefitting more than 40 programs, the Community Impact Fund is vital to the continued success of our local nonprofits. Due to the increased fundraising, the merger to create United Way of East TN Highlands, and a team of volunteers that protect the financial integrity of the organization’s funds, there will be an additional $104,000 of funding available across the organization’s geographical footprint.

The 2021 funding cycle will officially be the 90th year of United Way funding in our communties.

Social Innovation Fund

The United Way of East TN Highlands established the Social Innovation Fund in 2020 with $85,000 of donor designated funds. The fund will be used to support new programs aimed to meet social needs by filling gaps in our community related to health, education, or financial stability. Nonprofits or community organizations with programs less than 2 years old are eligible to apply. The Social Innovation Fund is fully funded through United Way of East TN Highlands.

Financial Empowerment Centers

With the help of corporate sponsors and government funded grants, United Way of East TN Highlands will be opening five Financial Empowerment Centers in 2021. Each location will offer a variety of opportunities and services to help local individuals with the fundamentals of financial management including establishing or improving their credit, managing their debts, increasing their savings, and creating a personal budget. Each location will also provide individuals the ability to search for job openings, create and improve their resume, and apply for jobs online.


About United Way of East TN Highlands
Serving Washington, Carter, Johnson and Southern Sullivan Counties, our goal is to break the cycle of poverty by uniting people and resources to strengthen the health, education and financial stability of every person in our community. Our vision is to be a community united to empower every person and organization to reach their full potential and achieve mor. For more information about United Way of East TN Highlands, please visit


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