Unsung heroes of 2020


Ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make our community a better place to live, work and raise a family.

A recognition of those who often go unrecognized.

Volunteers going above and beyond who look for nothing in return.

These individuals are the Unsung Heroes of 2020.

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Brice Ballentine

 General Manager – Elizabethton River riders

Brice is the General Manager of the Elizabethton River Riders, but that didn’t stop him from working to create a high school baseball league in 2020 that allowed more than 15 local teams to play an abbreviated season in a safe environment. The year also provided an unexpected change to the Appalachian League of the MiLB. When he and rest of the league learned that the Appalachian League would no longer be a part of minor league baseball, they began working on a new plan to become a Collegiate Wood Bat League. This not only comes with a new team name and brand (which expected to be announced in early February), but also keeps a number of individuals employed in our local economy. 

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Ruby Berry

Local Artist

Ruby is a known local artist and photographer, but when she couldn’t go out to market her existing products and skills, she turned from selling to giving. She created what came to be known as “Ruby’s Porch Bakery” during the pandemic. She took materials donated (flour and other things by the aforementioned Jamie Dove) and others in the community and has baked an incredible amount of tasty goods that she gives away to those that request it. She also created a network of followers that joined in the spirit of giving to other who have donated herbs and other materials to her efforts.

Zac Clark - United Way of East TN Highlands Board Member

Zac Clark

 General Manager – Johnson City Doughboys

Zac immediately became an active member of the community as a board member for United Way in 2017 when he took over as GM of the Johnson City Cardinals (now the Johnson City Doughboys). As COVID-19 forced changes in the professional baseball landscape, the Appalachian League was dropped from the MiLB system. In a quick response, the leaders of Appalachian League teams made the decision to become a Collegiate Wood Bat League, which will continue to keep baseball in our region, while also providing a positive economic impact. The name of the new team will be announced in early February. In 2020, high school baseball baseball in all of Northeast Tennessee was in jeopardy due to COVID-19. Zac also helped organize and manage the abbreviated high school baseball league that was created to provide more than 15 local teams a chance to play baseball in 2020.  

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Adam Dickson

 Center Supervisor, Langston Centre – City of Johnson City

In 2020, Adam completed his first full year as the first Center Supervisor at the Langston Centre. The Langston Centre is a cultural facility that promotes multicultural awareness and workforce development through arts, education and leadership activities. The Centre sits on the site of the historic Langston High School – Johnson City’s school for African-American students from 1893-1965. Adam also helped organize the MLK Virtual Food Drive, a three week online giving initiative to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. He has also been an active member in the Jonesborough community through various roles for many years. 

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Andy dietrich

co-owner – champion chevrolet cadillac

Aside from his position as Vice President and and Co-owner of Champion Chevrolet, Andy can be found working behind the scenes in the community to help build up our regional workforce.  As Chairman of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce in 2018, Andy joined forces with the other regional Chairpersons to create a regional outlook on securing business and industry.  With the onset of COVID-19, Dietrich pivoted to be the voice of RegionAhead, an economic effort offering a chance for small businesses to apply for much needed funding to help them get back on their feet.

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Jamie Dove

owner – main street pizza, County line pie & river creek farm

Jamie Dove is an innovator for the region.  His three local eateries use lots of fresh locally sourced foods and most of them can be found on his farm, which also allows locals to share in his goods via a subscription fresh food service.  When COVID hit, Dove was an innovator yet again, choosing the safety of his employees and the public ahead of profits by being the first in the area to shut down his eatery.  Dove also employed several employees for his summer farm work that had lost jobs or income due to COVID-19. 

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Danny Herman

Former president – Danny Herman Trucking

Danny Herman built Danny Herman Trucking (DHT) and moved it to Mountain City, TN more than 40 years ago. With the financial challenges that came along with 2020, Danny Herman Trucking doubled down on their commitment to their employees and their families by providing additional assistance to a number of their employees, as well as contributing to local nonprofits that support the livlihood of many Mountain City community members. While Danny Herman passed away in January of 2021, we would be remissed if we didn’t recognize him for laying the groundwork and creating a culture of giving back that lives on today in Mountain City. 

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

les musick

store manager – Food City (Elizabethton)

Grocery stores have once again shown to be the center of all of our needs in a time of crisis. Being one of the few grocery stores in Elizabethton, Les Musick and his team at Food City worked diligently to have the shelves stocked and the doors open to the public. Those who know Les know that he is much more than a man who manages the store though, he’s an example to be followed. Many have spoken of Les personally assisting his associates or other members of the community in need, while also purchasing meals for local homeless shelters and food pantries.

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

jack simpson

presidet – ballad health foundation

Ballad Health is known as a top medical services provider in the region, but Jack is not a doctor, nurse, or any other type of medical provider. Jack Simpson is President of the Ballad Health Foundation. A foundation that has risen up and been a key community partner across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Through COVID-19, Simpson and his team were able to contribute generously to United Ways across the region, ensuring that Ballad Health is positively impacting as many homes as possible.

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Kiran singh sirah 

president – International Storytelling Center

Located in Jonesborough, Tennessee, the International Storytelling Center (a registered 501(c)3) has been led by Kiran Singh Sirah since 2013. In 2020, not only was he able to make the adjustments to take the the very interactive International Story Telling Festival completely online, but Kiran also offered a variety of free learning experiences to storytellers across the nation. Throughout, he told stories with a concentration on the educational Appalachian history and the history of diversity in Appalachia. While many of us are familiar with the history of our region, these efforts have led to an increased awareness of the Appalachian region across the nation.  

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Sara Slagle

Community volunteer

Sara saw the food insecurity need and teamed up with the folks at River’s Edge Church to provide a drive-through meal service each day. This started right before the pandemic with 30 meals a day. Due to increased food insecurity in our region, they have increased to provide up to 100 meals each day to feed those in need.  Sarah has also teamed up with local farmers and food distributors to take what would become food waste and revamp it for use in the kitchen.  

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

Ashlee williams

founder & president – childrens librarian 

In a time where children were being physically kept out of school (and therefore school libraries), Ashlee leaned on her relationship with United Way of East TN Highlands and nearby schools to help the Elizabethton / Carter County Library take a digital step forward. During the brutal summer of 2020, Ashlee worked to create and distribute digital library cards to elementary age children in Carter County. She also worked with local partners to assist in food giveaways to ensure that students didn’t go hungry.

Leslie Salling United Way of East TN Highlands

jeremy wright

cpa – blackburn, childers, & steagall, 

Jeremy Wright has been an integral part of navigating the merger of United Way of Washington County and United Way of Elizabethton, Carter & Johnson Counties to create United Way of East TN Highlands. Nonprofit financial management is not simple, and mergers don’t happen overnight, but Wright volunteered his time and expertise over several months to help make it happen. Thanks to Blackburn, Childers & Steagall CPAs commitment to allowing their employees to volunteer with nonprofits, United Way can now reach more families than ever before.

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