Fundraiser planned to help Kingsport robotics teams compete out-of-state

KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) – A downtown Kingsport space designed for students to explore science and engineering will soon transform into “Destination Stem Station.” The event will not only open doors for children educationally, but it’s also a critical fundraiser to help some Kingsport students compete in an international competition.

About 25 students from Dobyns-Bennett and DB Excel have been invited to Seattle, Washington to compete in an international underwater robotics competition there.

It’s a big accomplishment, but they still need some extra help getting to Seattle. That’s where the fundraiser, Destination Stem Station, comes in.

“This is a way to show kids that hey, working can be fun,” said Streamworks Director, Dennis Courtney. “Exposing these different STEM careers to children at a young age gets them thinking, ‘hey I really love robotics, l really love computer science, or I really would love being an engineer.”‘

The event’s purpose is two fold – also serving as a crucial fundraiser to help two Kingsport robotics teams from Dobyns-Bennett and DB Excel get to an international underwater robotics competition in Seattle this summer.

“The teams have done really well so far in raising about half way, they’re about half way, they still have got half to go, so that’s why Destination Stem Station is so important,” Courtney said.

DB H2O teammates say they’ve worked hard on their underwater robot for months, and they are now prepping to show it off in Seattle.

“It’s going to be a super big moment for us to actually be in this competition. We’re so lucky to actually have the chance to be in it,” said DB student Makaila Freeman.

And even though competitors include some big names like MIT and Georgia Tech, Courtney reminds the Kingsport students that in his book, they’ve already won.

“A first year team getting to the international competition is a rarity. And for these kids here in Kingsport to have two teams that have been invited, that’s a feat,” Courtney said.

Destination Stem Station will kick off Friday night in downtown Kingsport at 252 Broad Street at 6 p.m.

The event is scheduled to happen for the next five Fridays.

There’s still some tickets available for Friday’s Destination Stem Station event. You can purchase them at the Kingsport Chamber.

Copyright 2018 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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Former residents, officials bid farewell to Lee Apartments

Matthew Lane

1 / 8 Earl Carter, former Times-News photographer, lived in Lee Apartments – #103 – from 1957 to 1965. Carter spoke on Wednesday of his time living in Lee, saying he made many lasting friendships with the boys and girls he grew up with in the 78-year-old apartments.

Lee Apartments

KINGSPORT — Lee Apartments, the city’s oldest public housing development, will soon be coming down.

And in its place at least 50 townhouses and duplexes will be built. This new neighborhood will be called the Grove at Poplar Dale, named after a nearby grove of oak trees and the surrounding streets of Poplar and Dale.

“(Lee Apartments) has served its purpose and been an anchor in this community, but the years have taken its toll,” said Maria Catron, deputy director of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority. “Demolition is the first phase and we’re excited about how the change will be to the Midtown neighborhood as a whole.”

The Midtown Redevelopment Project hit its latest milestone on Wednesday when the KHRA held a demolition ceremony in the Lee courtyard.

More than 20 former residents, along with state and local officials, came out to formally bid farewell to the 128-unit complex. The KHRA plans to demolish the buildings later this summer and eventually replace them with new rental units.


Local photographer Earl Carter lived in Apt. 103 from 1957 to 1965, his coming of age years, as he explained to the crowd on Wednesday. Carter said he made lasting friendships there, and he’s still friends with those people today.

“We shared a bond living here. We had a shared experience,” Carter said. “Even though you’re going to tear this down and we’re going to miss it, we share memories and our lifelong friendships will keep.”

On a typical spring day at Lee, Carter said, there was no shortage of kids outside playing, whether they were rollerskating down the street, running around the apartments or playing kick the can under a light at night.

In the summer evenings, the Salvation Army would come by one night a week and perform under the streetlights. Government cheese made the best grilled cheese sandwiches and the Civitan Club’s fruit baskets were greatly appreciated, Carter said.

“I remember trading comic books right down on that corner porch, baseball cards were all over the place and we always had enough kids to get up a ball game. That was never a problem,” Carter said. “I can tell you for sure, the kids I grew up with and ones I knew turned out pretty damn good. They really did.”

“Amen,” said someone from the crowd.


In addition to redeveloping the Lee site, the KHRA also plans to remodel and rehabilitate the remainder of its public housing units at Cloud, Dogwood Terrace, Holly Hills and Tiffany Court. These locations will receive infrastructure improvements, new plumbing and electrical and interior upgrades, such as new flooring, bathrooms, paint and interior surfaces.

The entire project is estimated to cost $51 million with Kingsport agreeing earlier this year to pitch in $3 million for its portion. The remainder of the funding will come from a variety of state and federal sources, including the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

On Wednesday, the THDA announced it has authorized $21.8 million in tax exempt bonds and $12 million to $14 million in low income tax credits for the project.

“What I hope is this $34 million commitment on our part signals our support for this project, but also our confidences in our partners in the KHRA,” said Ralph Perrey, the executive director of the THDA.


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Local mom credits Kingsport school nurse with saving her daughter’s life

KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) – A Tri-Cities mom is crediting the quick actions of a school nurse with saving her daughter’s life.

It happened last week at Robinson Middle School in Kingsport. A school nurse there administered an epinephrine injection, after an eighth grade student, Daysia Sellers, had a severe allergic reaction.

Wednesday, Sellers said she’s doing better, after a pretty scary day at school last week, when she said her throat started to itch and swell. It’s a reaction that she says she’s never experienced before, and one that prompted some quick action by the school’s nurse.

“Is the medicine going to kick in in enough time? Is the itching going to stop?” Those were some of the things running through 14-year-old Daysia Sellers’ mind when she had a severe allergic reaction at her school, a few minutes after she said she ate a donut in the cafeteria.

“It started like itching and swelling and it wasn’t getting any better,” Sellers said.

The school nurse gave her some Benadryl, but when that didn’t seem to work, the nurse thought fast – administering an epi pen.

“The swelling probably would have continued should she not have had the epinephrine,” said school nurse, Suzanne Marshall.

It’s something Daysia’s mom Angela Braan says shes incredibly thankful for.

“She was able to recognize the symptoms, because had she been in the car with me, I probably would have thought your throats itching, I’ll give you Benadryl and send you to school. I would not have known the symptoms to look for,” Braan said.

Braan praised the school nurse. “She saved my daughters life,” the mom said.

Daysia is thanking nurse Marshall, too.

“I’m really glad she was there to calm me down and get my mind off of it,” Sellers said.

Still, Marshall is humbly shaking off the accolades, and says she was just doing her job.

“Whatever happens medically, that’s what I’m here for,” the nurse said.

Daysia says she still doesn’t know what she’s allergic to. She’ll do some allergy tests soon, to figure that out. Still, she does now have several epi pens for herself and her mom to have on hand in case something like this happens again.

Kingsport City Schools have epi pens stocked in their schools thanks to the Epi Pens for Schools Program. It’s one of those extra stock epi pens that nurse Marshall used last week.

Copyright 2018 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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Midtown plan “jumpstarted” with state grant


KINGSPORT — The first piece of the Midtown Neighborhood redevelopment plan fell into place on Thursday with the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority receiving a $500,000 grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

The grant money will go towards the renovation of a two-story apartment building at the corner of Charlemont and Broad, the first construction phase of a three-year plan to transform Lee Apartments and the greater Midtown neighborhood.

“This grant award will jump-start the renovation of this building and make a huge impact for this entire neighborhood,” said Maria Catron, deputy director of the KHRA. “We greatly appreciate THDA for its help in expanding affordable housing in our area.”

THDA officials were in Northeast Tennessee on Thursday presenting a number of grant checks to government agencies and non-profit organizations, including the one for the KHRA.

In a press release, THDA Executive Director Ralph M. Perrey said the project will help ensure Kingsport residents have greater access to safe, affordable housing.

“This funding will allow KHRA to carry out much-needed renovations that will help improve the quality of affordable housing for Kingsport residents,” Perrey said.

Located at 106 West Charlemont Ave., the two-story brick building was constructed in 1935, and originally served as a hospital. The building had been privately owned and used as rental apartments, but according KHRA officials the property had become severely dilapidated in recent years.

The KHRA purchased the property in September 2015, for approximately $190,000. Catron said the KHRA would combine the $500,000 grant with $839,000 in matching funds to complete the renovation.

The renovation project will take the 22 existing units and transform them into 15 one- and two-bedroom apartments, along with upgrading the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems within the building. KHRA will also provide housing assistance to tenants to make the units more affordable to rent.

Four years ago, the KHRA began planning for the transformation of the Midtown neighborhood, from roughly Myrtle to Dale and Tennessee to Poplar. Last year, the KHRA applied for $11 million in federal housing tax credits to go towards the project, but earlier this year learned it did not make the cut for those credits.

The KHRA then went back, revised the plan and are now seeking non-competitive tax credits. The KHRA also has a funding plan in place for the entire project, which includes $1 million of its own money, along with loans and state and federal funds.

Earlier this year, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to pitch in $3 million towards the project, meeting an Aug. 1 deadline for the KHRA to have the entire funding plan in place.

KHRA officials say the project includes replacing Lee Apartments with 51 new duplexes and town houses, and the entire project should be complete in less than three years.

The grant money comes from the Housing Trust Fund (HTF), created by the THDA Board of Directors to provide financial support for innovative, affordable initiatives that serve the housing needs of Tennessee’s most vulnerable residents. Funding for the Housing Trust Fund comes entirely from earnings generated through THDA’s Single Family Mortgage program.

Since 2006, the Tennessee Housing Development Authority has provided over $69 million in Housing Trust Fund grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations across the state.


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Photographers, get those Spring Spectacular entries ready

“Each year the event welcomes back veteran photographers and greets new photographers,” says Ann Fortney, the creator and organizer, thanks to those who enter each year, new photographers who find and want to enter, and friends and families who know someone that they encourage to enter.

“I know of photographers who encourage others to enter because they enjoy photography; whether it is as a hobby or beginning to sell their work. I am always encouraging photographers to enter because it builds confidence in the hobbyist, and can get works of those breaking into business seen.”

The event’s mission is “to promote interest and fun in the ever-growing art of photography. To provide a quality competition for amateur and professional, young and young at heart in the region and beyond.”

This means that the Kingsport Spring Spectacular Photography Contest and Exhibition is for absolutely everyone. Whether you have just picked up a camera for the first time or have been a photographer for years; whether you enjoy photography as a hobby or as a professional, this event is for you.

Each year, Ann’s goal is to grow the show. She has reserved both the Main Gallery and the Atrium Gallery, located in the Kingsport Renaissance Center, and looks forward to filling it with the talents of the photographers who enter.

“I put out a challenge each year. I have all this space and I believe in myself to hang every photograph that is entered. In the past, I have had as many as 588 photos entered, and I had a lot less space than I do now, and I was able to hang all 588 photos. So, I want the photographers to challenge to me to hang even more,” she said.

The Kingsport Spring Spectacular Photography Contest and Exhibition is divided into three levels of competition: Youth, Amateur and Proficient. The Youth level is for those photographers ages 14 and under. The Youth level is a bit different in that Ann doesn’t divide the photographs into categories. She says that there just aren’t enough participants and entries to divide them into categories like the Amateur and Proficient levels. The photographs will be judged together, and the judges will be looking for all the elements that make a good photograph. The judges will also take into account the inexperience of the young photographers.

The Amateur level is for those people who are just getting into photography, those who enter competitions but don’t regularly place in the top three; and those who do not sell their photographs.

The Proficient level is for those people who are of a higher skill level in photography, who enter competitions and places first, second or third regularly, and who sell or offer to sell their photographs.

Those levels are then further divided into categories and each category, except the Special Theme, is subdivided into color and monochrome (black & white). The categories are: Nature, Pictorial and the Carrie Penley Special Theme.

The Nature category is defined as “having nothing manmade” in it at all. The Pictorial Category can be anything and everything, including nature photographs. If you are not sure if your nature photo fits into the Nature category, Ann recommends entering it in the Pictorial category.

The original image must be made by the entrant. The image may be altered digitally and artwork or graphic, created by the entrant, may be incorporated as long as the photo contents predominates.

“I understand there is software out there to make photos better, but the judges and I are interested in the work and skill of the photographer not the computer. I tell photographers who ask me about it this, ‘I have no problem with it, if it equals what you would do in a real darkroom setting.’ In other words, if you can’t do it in a darkroom then don’t do it on a computer.”

The Carrie Penley Special Theme category honors Ann’s mother, who loved all kinds of scavenger hunts, especially photographic scavenger hunts. The theme changes each year to keep photographers on their toes, and because Ann says “it’s just plain fun.” This year’s theme is “AGE.” The photographs need to show “AGE.” For example, old or classic cars, rusted keys, old houses, barns, people, etc. This category is only limited by the person’s imagination. Have fun with it and think outside the box.

There are monetary prizes and ribbons awarded to those photographs placing first, second and third, as well as Best of Show and People’s Choice. There are also honorable mention ribbons awarded. Plus, there is one special award – The Jerry Penley “I Love the Blue Ridge/Appalachian Region” – which honors Ann’s father. Ann’s parents supported her ambitious idea of creating a photography contest. In 2002, they helped her create it and volunteered their help behind the scenes. When her father passed in 2006, she and her mother wanted to honor his love of the Blue Ridge/Appalachian Region with a special award. This award goes to the one photograph that best depicts the love of the Blue Ridge/ Appalachians like her father had. It can be of anything: historic buildings, barns, houses, scenic photos, Americana, waterfalls/water photos, flowers, animals, etc.

“If you want ideas of what the judges are looking for simply go to our website ( and look at the photo gallery. There you can get a feel for what the award is about. There are photos of other locales, but the focus is on the Blue Ridge/Appalachian Region.”

Participants can enter the same photo into one of the other three categories as well. To enter it for this special award, there is a place on the application to request it be judged for the award. It is required that the location where the photo was taken be named, so be sure to put that on the application as well.

The People’s Choice Award is a chance for patrons who visit the exhibit to become judges. After looking at the exhibit, guests have an opportunity to place a vote for your favorite photograph. The deadline for voting will be 6 p.m., June 19.

There is an $5 fee per entry and there are no limits on the number of entries a person may enter. All entry fees are turned back into the event in the way of monetary prizes, ribbons and the award reception.

Entry forms are available in photo labs, most craft/hobby stores, matting/framing stores, libraries, some gift stores, at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and the Kingsport Carousel. It is also available online at

Contest entries will be accepted at Rainbow’s End Floral and Gift Shop, 214 E. Center St. Kingsport, TN 37660 on weekdays beginning April 30 and continuing through May 11 and on Saturdays, May 5 and May 12, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Entries from outside the area may be shipped to: Ann Fortney 154 W. Wanola Ave Kingsport, TN 37660. The deadline for entries is 3 p.m., May 12. The Awards Reception will be held June 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Main Art Gallery located at the Kingsport Renaissance Center.

For more information, contact Ann Fortney at (423) 914-5453, email, or message her on Facebook at: Kingsport Spring Spectacular Photography Contest and Exhibition.

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Field trips, competitions make for busy few weeks

During the last few weeks, Blount Home Education Association (BHEA) was busier than ever, with no shortage of events and learning opportunities for its members. Students took advantage of many field trip opportunities.

On Jan.15, elementary students traveled to Laser Quest in Knoxville where they learned about the law of reflection and the electromagnetic spectrum and enjoyed a game of laser tag. The same week, on Jan. 18, students toured the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. There they observed functioning historical aircraft and were taught about the impact aviation has made on our nation’s history. BHEA’s Boy Scouts of America Troop 442 ventured to the Charles L. Somers Northern Tier High Adventure Base in Ely, Minn. The scouts spent the week of Jan. 31 to Feb. 7 learning how to survive the -40 degree Minnesota winter while doing everything from dog sledding, skiing, ice fishing, hiking and camping in a “quinzhee” or snow shelter on frozen lakes.

BHEA students also took part in various academic competitions through extracurricular programs. Members of The High School STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Co-op participated in the TN High School Ethics Bowl, hosted by the UT Humanities Center and Department of Philosophy. The team consisted of BHEA members Kara Eldin, Max Eldin, Andrew Lawson and Danny Lawson. The team used their critical thinking skills to debate moral dilemmas with students from 17 other high school teams. The BHEA Middle School Science Bowl Team competed in The Volunteer State Middle School Science Bowl, on Feb. 3, at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport. The team consisted of Ethan Elder, Seth Hargis, Jack Lea, Daniel Metcalf and Jackson Neilson. They won two of their four matches. BHEA held its annual first through eighth grade spelling bee on Jan. 23 at Everett Hills Baptist Church. Fourteen students participated: Julia Smith placed first, Patrick Nelson placed second and Katie Grubb placed third. Smith will go on to represent BHEA at the Regional Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee at the University of Tennessee on March 17.

BHEA students showcased their acting in multiple productions. BHEA student, Tori Smith, is currently playing the title role in the Cumberland County Playhouse’s production of “Annie.” “The role is very demanding.

“The Playhouse is a professional regional theatre, and the staff and other cast members are so talented. I’ve grown so much,” Smith said. “Annie” is running from Feb. 3 to March 2. Many BHEA Students also acted in the Primary Players’ Production of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” Jackson Rader, who played the lead role of Gaston, said “I really enjoyed spending time with the cast and parents. The whole experience of theatre with the Primary Players has been a real blessing to my high school career. It was one of the best shows yet and a great way to spend my senior year.” The show ran from Feb. 9 to 11 at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

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Gryphon Investors’ CORA Health Services Moves into Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia – Nashville Business Journal

Expands Footprint to Seven States


CORA Health Services, Inc. (“CORA”), a top 10 national operator of outpatient physical therapy services, announced today that it has expanded into three new states: Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. CORA is a portfolio company of Gryphon Investors (“Gryphon”), a leading middle-market private equity firm based in San Francisco.

CORA entered Tennessee and Kentucky through its acquisition of Champion Physical Therapy from owners John Staley, Robb Seahorn, Tim Butcher & Brett Kolnick. Champion, founded in 2008, has 15 locations, including Knoxville, TN; the TriCities market encompassing Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol, TN; and several locations in southeastern Kentucky.

CORA will establish a presence in Virginia through its acquisition of Professional Therapies of Roanoke, which has seven locations in the Roanoke market area. The company was founded in 1984 by Jan Jessee, Bill Mercer & Ron Greer. In addition to standard physical therapy services, Professional Therapies offers early intervention (pediatrics) and physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy services to schools.

Dennis Smith, CORA’s CEO, stated, “We are delighted to welcome these new companies, whose top quality clinics and therapists will expand our geographic reach and augment our existing services. CORA will continue to pursue growth while adhering to its goal of delivering personalized care with respect and consideration for our patients’ needs.”

CORA also announced the recent acquisition of multiple facilities in Georgia and North Carolina.

The company enhanced its existing presence in Georgia with the acquisition of West Rehab & Sports Medicine, which runs five clinics in Savannah. Co-owner and licensed therapist Becky West will remain with the company.

In North Carolina, CORA acquired Accent Physical Therapy, a single clinic in Wilmington, which will add to CORA’s existing locations in NC and Myrtle Beach, SC.

Terms of these transactions were not disclosed.

With these acquisitions, CORA now has more than 160 clinic locations in seven states.

About CORA
CORA Health Services, Inc. ( is an outpatient rehabilitation company that uses proven clinical practices and cost effective treatment protocols to return patients to their jobs and lifestyles as soon as possible. Their clinics offer a complete range of treatment, including outpatient physical therapy and general rehabilitation, worker’s compensation therapy, sports and auto injury rehabilitation, and rehabilitation for seniors. CORA operates more than 160 clinics in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

About Gryphon Investors
Based in San Francisco, Gryphon Investors ( is a leading private equity firm focused on profitably growing and competitively enhancing middle-market companies in partnership with experienced management. For 20 consecutive quarters, Gryphon has been ranked in Preqin’s prestigious quarterly PE report as one of North America’s top-decile buyout firms based on consistency of strong investment returns. Managing over $2.6 billion of equity investments and capital since 1997, the firm has an extensive track record of leading equity investments of $50 million to $200 million per portfolio company with sales ranging from approximately $100 million to $500 million. Gryphon prioritizes investment opportunities where it can form proactive partnerships with owners and executives to build leading companies, utilizing Gryphon’s capital, specialized professional resources, and operational expertise. Gryphon closed its fourth private equity buyout fund, Gryphon IV, in November 2016 at $1.1 billion, and raised a $100 million captive mezzanine fund, Gryphon Mezzanine Partners, L.P., in August 2017.

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Local nonprofit using horses to help students saddle up for a bright future

“We’re helping horses and we’re grooming them and we’re feeding them and we’re just basically taking care of the horses,” Seventh grade student Isaiah Dukes said.

He and some of his classmates get the horses ready for the programs at Small Miracles. The nonprofit offers therapeutic programs with the horses for people with disabilities, as well as programs for veterans.

“Words cannot express how helpful they been and how engaged in the program and how committed,” Small Miracles Director Sherri Russell said.

To be here, “You have to keep up with your schoolwork, you have to focus, stay on task,” Dukes said.

And once you’re here, “Horses are nonjudgmental,” Russell said. “They don’t care about what you did in the past, they live in the moment, they just love and accept you.”

The staff here says they hopes to offer that same acceptance, mentoring the students, and helping them see a future for themselves.

“This helps the children to feel that they are successful and helps build her self-esteem and help them learn responsibility personally and to the community and also empowers them to think about their future what they are capable of that doing and think about their potential,” Russell said.

The Christian nonprofit is in its third decade of welcoming students here.

“It gives us an opportunity to be a light in the community and I always say it like be Jesus with skin on because we love people unconditionally and we hope that they feel that love when they come out here,” Russell said.

Small Miracles is now recruiting volunteers for programs in their spring session. You can visit the website for information on how you can help.

Copyright 2018 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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Good Genes or

Floyd Mayweather ‘s good looks are also undefeated!

Here’s a 21-year-old version of the fresh-faced professional boxer after winning a fight back in 1998 ( left ) and 20 years later … the champ — who celebrated his 41st birthday earlier this week — at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles (right).


The question is …

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