JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Jason Brown, former pro football player turned farmer, kicked off the 2015 United Way campaign Thursday for five organizations in the region that together aim to raise more than $9 million dollars for local agencies that assist those in need.
Representatives from United Way organizations in Bristol, Elizabethton/Carter County, Kingsport, Southwest Virginia, and Washington County, Tennessee gathered at the Holiday Inn in Johnson City for the kickoff.

Brown made the decision to return to North Carolina and grow vegetables on his farm instead of “dominating” on the field, he said, after a turning point in his life seven years after his older brother died in war.

“I wasn’t always the giving, loving, serving guy you see right now,” Brown said. “I grew up a spoiled, snotty-nosed brat. … I thought that I was hot stuff.”
Brown’s big brother, however, put him in his place. After Brown challenged him to a “good old fashioned foot race” that he ended up losing his brother reminded him again that he needed to humble himself. That led him to ask his brother what he had done with his life.
At the time, Brown said, his brother was nearly 25 and a free spirited artist still trying to find his way. A couple of months later, Brown’s brother was training to join the Army. He was stationed in Germany then went to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002.

“My older brother was a hero, dying in service to our country,” Brown said. “Dr. Martin Luther King said that, ‘Anyone can be great because any one of us can serve.’ And he was truly great. Jesus Christ said that there is no greater deed a man can do than to lay down his life for his friends.’ My brother did that. He paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Brown said his turning point came when he was 27, the same age his brother was when he died.

“I began to look in the mirror and I began to judge and measure up myself as a man to where he was when he was a man and guess what? There was still no comparison,” he said. “The shoes that he left behind for me to fill – unfillable. The same question that I posed to him, ‘What are you doing with your life that’s so great?’ … I posed to myself.”
Once he had that realization, Brown said God led him to leave football and become a farmer to help the hungry. He began First Fruits Farm, where he grows sweet potatoes and cucumbers. In 2014, nearly 10,000 pounds of cucumbers and 120,000 pounds of sweet potatoes were harvested and given to food pantries and churches.

“If I want to give, I’m not going to give from my wallet,” Brown said. “I’m going to give from my heart because if I do that I know that I’m giving my best.”
The United Way of Bristol is supporting 27 local agencies this year. The organization’s theme is “Be the Good.” Its campaign goal is $1.15 million.
United Way of Southwest Virginia’s campaign theme for 2015 is “The Difference is You” and the organization’s goal is $1.5 million.

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