In the last several months many events have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, but Neal McCoy isn’t letting COVID-19 stop him from raising money for a good cause. This weekend, McCoy will host the 26th Annual Neal McCoy and Friends Benefit for the East Texas Angel Network.
The weekend’s festivities will include a golf tournament on Friday (Sept. 25) with a dinner and auction to follow that will adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines. This year, due to the pandemic, the Saturday evening show will be an online concert starting at 6:30 CST on the East Texas Angel Network Facebook page as well as McCoy’s Facebook page and on NealMcCoy.com.
The tall Texan, known for his ebullient personality and for such chart-topping 90s hits as “No Doubt About It” and “Wink,” started the East Texas Angel Network 26 years ago with his wife Melinda. Helping children became a family affair as Melinda’s mother worked for the foundation for years and now their daughter Miki serves as executive director.
The idea to launch the foundation came after McCoy met a young boy battling cancer. “I had flown out to Tombstone, Arizona for a benefit,” recalls the veteran performer, who has been staying in touch with fans during the pandemic with a series of Friday night livestreams. “Matt was six-years-old at the time and had bone cancer. I met him and his sister and their parents and just fell in love with him. We filmed the video for ‘Wink’ in New Mexico and I invited Matt and his sister to be in the video. Early in the video and every once in a while throughout it you can see a little boy and his little sister. I just fell in love with him and his story. He inspired me to start digging deeper to find out more about these kids that had these life challenging illnesses.”
The McCoys decided to start a foundation that would raise money to help Texas families whose children were battling serious illnesses and facing other health issues. “Melinda and I started talking about how fortunate we were. Melinda was pregnant with [our son] Swayde and [our daughter] Miki was already seven or eight years old,” he says. “We started seeing how devastated these families and friends could become when a child is sick. That is when we said, ‘We ought to start a foundation,’ because a lot of times when you have a sick child that is when people start to raise money and sometimes it’s too late to help by the time you get the whole thing put together and actually can provide them with any money. Sometimes it’s just too late for either the child who may have passed or those who are trying to pay insurance or pay car payments and are just devastated. So we started this and tried to figure out the best way we could help them. We thought we would start a foundation and start putting money into it and then when a child needed some help, we would have money ready. That’s how that whole thing started.”
Over the years, McCoy has raised nearly 10 million dollars to help families in need. “It’s because of a lot of hard work of our three regular employees and volunteers,” McCoy says. “People step up and do the work to get it done. It’s just an incredible amount of money that we’ve been able to raise and it’s due to the kind hearted people. We’ve got money coming in from other places, but 90% of it is right here in our community,” says McCoy, a longtime resident of Longview, Texas.
McCoy says they benefit from the support of local businesses such as Patterson Auto, Kelly Tractor and Spartan Mowers. “We accept donations all year long. Anytime somebody wants to help us they can, but most of our money is raised for the entire year of support for these families is raised in a weekend. It’s what we call our East Texas Angel Network benefit weekend. There’s a golf tournament on a Friday and then Friday night we raise a lot of money at the live and silent auction dinner that I am the host of. A lot of people that come to that would almost rather do that than go to the concert only because I just talk so much crap and make fun of everybody,” he says with a laugh, “but somehow we raise a lot of money through the live auction.”
Over the years, many of McCoy’s country music friends have participated in the East Texas Angel Network weekend. Diamond Rio, Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence, Phil Vassar, Lila McCann, Tracy Byrd, Bill Engvall, Martina McBride, Blake Shelton and others have joined McCoy to perform at the Saturday night concert, and many have also joined in an event on Saturday mornings where they spend time with the children and their families.
Unfortunately, this year the Saturday morning gathering had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. “We usually invite the families up to a place and I’m there. And if we have guest artists who are performing at the concert Saturday night, if they get into town and want to do it, they come up and we just line up and visit with all these kids and their families,” McCoy says. “And that really is what seals the deal for the artist because we all go do these things. We get invited and sometimes you don’t get a chance to see who you are benefiting. If we can get these artists to the Saturday morning thing when they bring the families in, it usually tears their hearts out.”
The East Texas Angel Network helps children who are battling cancer or dealing with birth defects or other health challenges. “We help children with all kinds of different issues,” McCoy says. “Some get better. Some have cancer. Some live. Some die. That’s the tough thing when you get attached to them and get to know them and then they don’t make it. It’s a tough thing.”
Unfortunately, Matt who inspired McCoy and his wife to start the foundation lost his battle with cancer when he was 11. “We stayed dear friends and still are friends with his family and his sister,” says McCoy, adding that Matt’s family sometimes travels from Arizona to Texas to attend the benefit. “They know Matt was one of the inspirations behind this and I think it just fills their heart to see that even though they lost their son 20 years ago, he is still an inspiration to a lot of people.”
Thankfully, many of the children are survivors. One of McCoy’s favorite memories is an old man who approached him while he was pumping gas. “He shook my hand and he started tearing up. He said, ‘You helped our kids. Our grandchild was very, very sick and you stepped up with your foundation. You all helped them and I want you to know our grandchild is okay now, but they would not have made it without you all.’ He was so moved by it,” McCoy says with obvious emotion in his voice. “He wasn’t quite sure how to come up and say, ‘Hey thanks! We can’t thank you enough.’ I could tell it was bothering him and when he finally decided to come over and shake my hand, tears just started coming from his eyes. He probably wasn’t in a financial position where he could even help them as much as he’d like to so I think that’s what moved him even more, just the thought ‘I know these are my kids and grandchild and I can’t help them, and you don’t even know them and you are helping them.’”
His work with the East Texas Angel Network inspired McCoy to recorded a song titled “A New Mountain to Climb” as well as write a book by the same name. “Some of the chapters in there are a couple of the families in our foundation,” he says. “It could be any family in our foundation because the song is about having a new mountain to climb. [The lyric says] ‘Just tell me you don’t think I can do it, I’ll fool you every time. Now give me a challenge, I accept it, body heart and mind, a new mountain to climb.’
“These families wake up with these children some of them knowing that they are not going to be any better ever,” McCoy says. “They are where they are and some of those families are who inspired me to record that song and write that book because they face the same mountain every day. They never get to the top of it. They never get it climbed. They know when they go to bed that night they are going to wake up and that same mountain is going to be there and they are going to start climbing knowing that they aren’t going to get to the top, but they are going to climb it and then they are going to rest and then they’ll get back up and climb it the next day. It is just so inspiring.”
To donate to the east Texas Angel Network, please click here.