Miki Dougherty grew up watching her father help East Texas families whose children face a serious or life-threatening illness. Those experiences motivated her to pursue a degree in special education, and to dedicate her life to helping others.

Today, Dougherty serves as the executive director of the East Texas Angel Network, the nonprofit foundation that her father, popular country musician Neal McCoy, established in 1995. As executive director, Dougherty works with children and their families, but she also oversees fundraising aspects of the foundation, including its annual benefit concert.

“That’s what pushed me to want to get my degree in special education because I was around kids that had special needs and health issues, and I really enjoyed being a part of their lives,” Dougherty said. “This is the best of both worlds for me because I get to do that but I also get to be involved in the planning aspect, the fundraising side of things, in addition to the side where I get to work with the kids. And, then I also get to help plan a concert, and I’ve been around those my whole life, too. It’s really fun because I get to do all of those things.”

Dougherty grew up in Longview, graduating from Spring Hill High School in 2004. She went on to receive a degree in special education from Texas A&M University in 2008.

After graduation, Dougherty taught at the Wayne D. Boshears Center for Exceptional Programs in Tyler. The Boshears Center is a campus within Tyler ISD that serves children with special needs.

“There was never a dull moment. It was really fun,” said Dougherty, who is the mother of two sons, Titan and Dash. She and her husband, Ryan Dougherty, have been married one year and are expecting a child.

After four years of teaching, she had her first son and decided to take some time to consider her next career endeavor. At the time, her grandmother, Patsy Williams, served at the helm of the East Texas Angel Network. Dougherty decided it was a great time to start learning from her grandmother. Seven years ago, she officially became the executive director of the organization.

Dougherty grew up with the East Texas Angel Network. Her father, McCoy, founded the organization when she was 8. McCoy and his wife, Melinda, chose to create the organization as a way to keep money in East Texas to help support families with children who suffer serious or life-threatening illnesses.

McCoy holds a major benefit fundraising concert for the charity each year in addition to a golf tournament and sponsor dinner. McCoy serves as the featured artist for the concert but has brought in many of his friends in the entertainment industry over the years to perform. Past participants have included Tracy Byrd, Charlie Pride, Martina McBride, Troy Aikman, Nolan Ryan, Jack Hanna, Wayne Newton, Bo Derek, Tracy Lawrence, Blake Shelton and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

The golf tournament, sponsor dinner and concert are held annually on one weekend, typically in September. Proceeds from the events help sustain the East Texas Angel Network for the next year.

Since its inception, the organization has raised more than $9 million and helped more than 600 families in East Texas, Dougherty said. The organization assists families within a 75-mile radius of Longview who have a child under the age of 18 with a serious illness. The East Texas Angel Network does not pay medical bills. It instead focuses on helping families pay for secondary expenses, such as rent and utilities.

“What we hope is that the money that we do pay for them opens up room for them to afford other things, whether it be hospital bills or travel. A lot of our families have to travel to Dallas for treatment, so then they’re taking time off work and they’re staying overnight in hotels,” Dougherty said.

For the past five years, East Texas Angel Network has also kept a pantry for families, Dougherty said. The pantry includes non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, paper products and hygiene supplies. Families come in typically once a week to stock

up on supplies, she said. The organization also accepts donations for its pantry.

Currently, the East Texas Angel Network is serving 80 to 100 families, she said. Families must apply for assistance from the organization, which has a board of directors that reviews applications and determines whom to support.

The annual fundraiser weekend has a goal of raising about $500,000 for the organization, Dougherty said. However, many years have exceeded that goal. In 2019, for example, the organization raised about $650,000, she said.

“That one weekend — those 48 hours — is really when we raise the money that sustains us until the next year,” she said.

This year, however, is a bit uncertain, Dougherty said. As the coronavirus pandemic has hit East Texas, it has put a strain on large gatherings. This year’s fundraising activities will look different from previous years when they’re held Sept. 25-26.

The annual concert normally is held at LeTourneau University’s Belcher Center, but it must follow capacity restrictions designed

to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Instead, this year’s concert will be livestreamed free of charge at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 on the East Texas Angel Network’s Facebook page.

“But we are on board right now with our sponsor dinner. It looks like it’s going to work out, and it looks like we’re going to be able to seat close to what we usually do,” said Dougherty, noting that the dinner is held at the Infinity Event Center in Longview.

Tables will be spaced out, and there should be about 360 people served, she said. That’s about 60 to 100 fewer people in attendance than usual, but Dougherty said she is happy with the number.

“That’s great because that’s the night we raise most of the money because we have auction items and a lot of stuff,” she said.

The golf tournament also in July looked like it would be able to occur. Dougherty said the organization is considering additions to the golf tournament, such as possibly adding a silent auction, in an effort to raise more funds this year.

“We’re just trying to recoup as much as we can this year,” she said.

Though she enjoys planning and executing the fundraising weekend, Dougherty said her favorite moments with East Texas Angel Network involve the children served. To help artists performing at the concert connect with the children served, the Angel Network holds a meet and greet for its Angels. The organization also hosts an annual holiday party for the families.

“It’s a great opportunity for families to meet other families like them, and it really brings it home,” she said.

Dougherty hopes to see the organization continue to grow and serve more families in the future. That will happen, she said, as fundraising increases so more families can be reached.

“Our goal is always to raise more funds and help more families,” she said.

To learn more about the East Texas Angel Network, visit easttexasangelnetwork.com.