East Texas Angel Network, a local charity which provides financial support to families of children with serious illnesses, is celebrating 25 years of service in the area and is aiming to make its annual fundraiser more successful than ever before.

Miki Dougherty, daughter of East Texas musician and ETAN founder Neal McCoy, visited Kilgore Rotary Club Wednesday to share information about the foundation.

“My family, 25 years ago, had a vision to start a foundation in East Texas where they could raise money and give back to families that have children with serious or life-threatening illnesses and where that money can be readily available,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty said her father became inspired to create ETAN when, in the course of his country music career and touring, he saw many benefit shows and fundraisers being held to support various causes. Rather than raising money for a cause as it was needed, McCoy and his wife Melinda were inspired to create a charitable fund which would be able to help people whenever they might need assistance.

“He really wanted to start something in his hometown, in this area, where the money would already be there to help the families when they needed it,” Dougherty said.

“So that’s what he did.”

Founded in 1995, East Texas Angel Network has supported over 600 families and raised over $9 million. The foundation offers financial support to families within 75 miles of Longview. Instead of paying medical expenses, the network helps families with seriously ill children under 18 years of age with costs associated with long-term care.

For example, the network’s funds pay for rent, utility bills and groceries. They also have a food pantry at their office stocked with food items, personal cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items.

ETAN provides Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the families it supports and holds an annual Christmas Toy Drive for families who sign up for help during the holidays.

This year, their fundraising goal is $500,000. They’ll aim to hit or surpass that goal with their annual fundraising weekend in September, which includes four events – a golf tournament at Wood Hollow in Longview, a sponsor dinner with an auction, a meet-and-greet with local artists and a concert.

“Our goal is to raise $500,000 in one weekend and we have never fallen short of that,” Dougherty said, adding ETAN hoped to raise more money than ever this September to celebrate its 25th year.

Kilgore resident Jennifer Cubine spoke to Rotarians as well, telling them how ETAN helped her when her daughter Ronni Smith developed a serious medical condition.

She had an eight-year-old daughter, a great job and a house when doctors ordered a sonogram to check on her new pregnancy.

The sonogram indicated a fetal spinal curvature.

Doctors told Cubine her daughter would have scoliosis and possibly a few other complications. She did not expect the complications to be as severe as they turned out to be.

Ronni had a primary diagnosis of Goldenhar syndrome, a rare congenital disorder which causes incomplete development of the ear, nose, soft palate, lip and mandible.

Along with this diagnosis, Ronni also deals with feeding problems, hearing impairment, heart disorders, short term memory loss, airway obstruction, dysphasia, hormone deficiency and obstructive sleep apnea, among others.

Her treatments were expensive but Cubine said other expenses she didn’t expect began to add up.

For example, many of her daughter’s treatments required frequent trips to care facilities in Dallas. The family began experiencing car problems and went through sets of tires rapidly due to the excessive highway travel. They purchased a car with 96,000 miles on it, she said, and in one year the odometer rolled past 200,000 miles.

Cubine was forced to quit her job in order to focus on her daughter’s care.

ETAN support helped make the treatments possible by funding their day-to-day expenses.

“Just to have somebody that will provide you with that kind of support and to help you and take some of that stress off you when you’re struggling and the only thing you’re really concerned about is your child…they give you the ability to focus on her and to help her and to not worry about how we’re going to get home and if the tire is going to make it,” Cubine said.

Dougherty said the best way for people to support ETAN is to become a sponsor. To become a sponsor or to learn more, visit www.EastTexasAngelNetwork.com or www.Facebook.com/EastTexasAngelNetwork.

ETAN’s fall fundraiser will be held Sept. 27 and 28.

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