Johnson City, TN – May 13, 2022 – Three local organizations each won a $10,000 grant from United Way of East TN Highlands’ Social Innovation Fund at Thursday night’s Problem-Solving Pitches event, sponsored by General Shale and TVA.

The event, held in the Wallace Theatre of Downtown Johnson City, featured pitches from six local nonprofits, along with a diverse group of judges who each brought their area of expertise to the judge’s table. Following a live fan vote that was paired with the judge’s votes, A Step Ahead Foundation Tri-Cities, Huschka House, and Junt@s of Johnson City were announced the winners of the competition!

The Social Innovation Fund was brought to life in 2020 through a private, anonymous donation specifically made to fuel social innovation in the region. This year, United Way also partnered with FoundersForge to work with the organizations ahead of time to perfect their pitches.

A Step Ahead Foundation Tri-Cities will use their grant to make long-acting reversible contraceptive more accessible and affordable to women who are interested in obtaining it throughout the region. It will be distributed on Ballad Health’s mobile unit that is slated to begin in July of 2022. Huschka House will use the full $10,000 grant to complete a home renovation of a home to better accommodate young adults aging out of foster care (18-21) in our area who are fighting against the threats of homelessness as they begin their adult lives. Junt@s of Johnson City highlighted the 58 languages that are spoken by students in Johnson City Schools and will use their grant to make culturally appropriate resources available for the immigrant, Black, and Latinx community in order to flourish in financial stability, workforce development and ESL classes.

“We had a blast giving away $30,000 to help create a better community for all,” said Leslie Salling, President & CEO of United Way of East TN Highlands. “We know that the money is just a start to the awesome things these programs will do for our community.”

These grants are specifically for new nonprofit programs, less than 2 years old. The restrictions of traditional grants are removed, giving nonprofits the space to try new initiatives with innovative ideas to solve our community’s most pressing needs.




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 more. For more information about United Way of East TN Highlands, please visit


About The Judges
Dr. Bill Heise worked at Eastman Chemical Company for nearly thirty years, holding positions in Engineering, Research and Development, Business Strategy and Development, Corporate Sustainability, and Innovation Management. He has spent his last five years with ETSU, working to integrate real-world strategy problems for the MBA strategic experience projects.


Laura Kelly is the Executive Director for Holston Habitat for Humanity, which serves Washington, Carter and Sullivan Counties, as well as Bristol, VA. She also spent roughly 8 years with Appalachia Service Project, which serves a footprint that crosses into five states of Central Appalachia.


Edwin Williams, a local entrepreneur, is the founder of ZenHammer, a mobile app for contractors to automate the business and paperwork side of their work. Williams has also been active in the start-up community, working to help other entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

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