Seven years ago, the lives of Howard and Cyndy Livingston were changed forever, a change that has brought happiness and comfort to thousands of children with cancer.
His new band was booked to play at a 2008 event at the Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA, not far from his home in Summerland Key, Fla. It was a weekend fundraiser for KOA Care Camps. At the fundraising festival, the Livingstons were moved as supporters told them more about the mission and needs of Care Camps.
“The more we learned, the more it was tugging at our hearts,” he says.
So they decided to follow their hearts and make Care Camps part of their lives as they traveled from concert to concert with his tropical music group, Howard Livingston and the Mile Marker 24 Band.
In 2009, Howard and Cyndy were invited to the KOA Convention in Houston. They attended a breakout session on Care Camps and a live auction where they talked to several kids with cancer who were there as KOA guests.
“That convention was a game-changer for us,” he says. “Our hearts just melted.”
They became even more determined in their fundraising efforts, and donations have soared since 2008, when they collected $700 for Care Camps. In subsequent years, they raised $2,753; $39,292; $55,366; $75,000 and $90,000. He said the tally for 2014 hit $114,200 when the books were closed in June, after the annual Meet Me in the Keys gathering took in $31,660 across its four-day run.
That brings the Livingstons’ lifetime donation to over $400,000 for the camps that serve kids with cancer.
“At every concert, we preach out the Care Camps story, and everyone gets it,” he says. “It is easy to be excited. It is so easy to embrace. There’s no controversy over kids with cancer.”
“The more we make folks aware of Care Camps, the more money we raise. Folks see that this is the real deal.”
At his concerts, the biggest fundraising idea came from Cyndy: auction off margaritas stirred by the band’s old Johnson outboard motor.
“Well, that started the ball rolling,” he says, and the high-powered blender, which has had national exposure on the Today Show and other programs, has churned up donations as high as $15,000 for the first margarita of the party.
Howard’s signature turquoise baseball cap is also a top seller for Care Camps. For a $100 donation, fans of the band can show they care, too.
At concerts, “a sea of turquoise is really cool to see,” he says.
Each year, the band continues to perform at the Sugarload KOA, where it all started. Though campground managers may have changed, their commitment to raise funds for Care Camps has not.
“We are lifelong friends. They all come back. It’s like a reunion for us.”
Howard wasn’t always the leader of a band. For two decades, he was a successful manufacturing engineer and business owner. He fell in love with the Florida Keys after several visits to the area and eventually decided to trade the business life for the life of a musician. His passion for music started at age 5, after his mother gave him his first six-string guitar.
The band has recorded five studio CDs with more than 50 original songs. Its latest album, Tunes in a Tropical Key, was released in 2010. Livingston received the Trop Rock Music Awards for entertainer of the year and band of the year.
For their outstanding efforts in support of Care Camps, Howard and Cyndy were presented with a commemorative “I Care” plaque at the annual KOA Convention in 2012 and added to the KOA Care Camps Wall of Fame.