Women with a Cause 2019: Ashley Ferguson
Cause: Dose of the Coast
When Ashley Ferguson took her terminally ill father out for a fishing trip to lift his spirits, she knew it wouldn’t compare to the exotic fishing excursions he had taken when in good health to Hawaii and Japan.
But to Ferguson’s surprise, her father mentioned their trip just days before his passing. “It wasn’t epic,” Ferguson says of the trip she arranged. “It kind of hit me in that moment when he was thanking me for it. To him, it was that big.”
Ferguson, 34, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, founded Dose of the Coast three months later to allow “VIPs” who have been affected by a life-altering illness and their families to enjoy free, safe and comfortable excursions on the water. The fishing, sailing or pontoon cruises arranged by Dose of the Coast allow them to forget about being sick and enjoy nature for possibly one last time. “I just want to do this for everybody,” Ferguson says. “I want everyone to have this moment, to have this opportunity.”
Nominations for Dose of the Coast-sponsored fishing trips are accepted at doseofthecoast.org, but Ferguson also hears about potential VIPs from her husband, a physician’s assistant at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital.
While many of the fishing trips take place on Lake Pontchartrain and nearby bayous to catch speckled trout and redfish, Dose of the Coast has also arranged trips to Texas and Pensacola, Ferguson says. Money raised through fishing rodeo competitions and donations cover the trips’ costs, including the boat charter and bait, although most captains are volunteers, she says.
While a one-day fishing trip may seem small, Ferguson says the memories and friends made through Dose of the Coast last a lifetime. “The shared thing is not cancer,” Ferguson says. “It’s fishing or sailing. To me, standing back and watching that happen has been so beautiful.”
In the future, Ferguson hopes to offer a camp retreat for families and include kayaking trips. She also hopes to create the “Whatever Floats Your Boat” program where the nonprofit organization would fulfill requests that may not be coastal related, she says.
Ferguson may not have experience with having cancer, but she knows about loving someone with cancer. “I do have the experience,” she says, “and can stand side by side with the family members that are going through it.” doseofthecoast.org
What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
I love hearing the squeal of someone hooking a fish, sometimes for the first time. I love watching someone who is going through a tough time smiling with their family.
How is your cause making a difference?
We reduce stress, lift spirits and nourish the souls of families going through a tough time. The feeling of fresh air on a boat ride gives a sense of freedom and release.
What do you hope to achieve?
We hope to impact more families each year by continuing to partner with hospitals, hospice and palliative care groups.
Is there a big or annual event for your cause?
There is an annual fishing event down in Empire, Louisiana. This event kicks off the Empire South Pass Tarpon Rodeo. It seems like the entire community of Empire comes together to make our VIPs feel like royalty.