Joy Committee Spreads Light in It's Community and Beyond

Emerald Coast non profit improves life for people and creatures in need



photos by joyce h photography

Katie Ross, a pediatric nurse, founded The Joy Committee to be of help to homeless people and stray animals, visit elderly shut-ins and provide holiday gifts for needy children. Daughter Jasmine takes after her mom.

The Joy Committee’s mission is simple and poignant: Spread kindness, and pay it forward.

This is a motto founder Katie Ross adopted at an early age. A young Ross often went door-to-door around her neighborhood to collect canned goods for the homeless, all while dreaming of one day opening her own homeless shelter. But as she grew older, she realized there were even more ways to make her community a brighter place.

Today, Ross works full time as a pediatric nurse for Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Pensacola. When she’s not caring for children at work, she, along with her husband Joey Ross, are keeping up with the five she has at home. It seems they’re chips off the old block, as it was actually one of Ross’s daughters who inspired The Joy Committee.

“We were driving home one day and passed a nursing home, when my daughter turned to me and said, ‘Those people are probably so lonely!’” Ross recalls. “She was insistent that we visit them, and that got me looking at other aspects of our community in need.”

Now entering its fourth year, the non-profit organization services the disadvantaged, lonesome and vulnerable from Pensacola to Destin, but its reach is ever growing. Ross originally formed The Joy Committee with her good friend and Homeless Advocate, Sara Rios, but the past few years have gifted the duo an altruistic team of volunteers to advance their endeavors. 

“We work often with the homeless at the Waterfront Rescue Mission in Pensacola, where we cook their meals and bring them supplies,” Ross says. “But we also like to take to the streets and scout people out to surprise them with a warm meal. When we first started out, we had a fundraiser that no one came to, so we boxed up all the food, located a homeless camp and passed it all out. It was a great day.”

While major charity organizations often host holiday dinners (like Christmas and Thanksgiving) for the homeless, Ross enjoys throwing festive bashes for them on New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and even summer barbecues since she knows there will be less active volunteers in the area.

“While we mostly focus on the homeless, we also love to visit our elderly because they do get lonely,” Ross explained. “We drop by as often as we can and are always looking for more volunteers to come and chat with them, assist with their activities or bring little presents to brighten their days.”

The Joy Committee’s charity also benefits the underprivileged children of the Emerald Coast. While regular toy drives are held for the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, this past Christmas, the organization sponsored an Angel Tree. Less fortunate families were able to submit their children’s Christmas wishes and gift them the toy of their dreams.

“A lot of times, people will message our Facebook page asking for essentials like school supplies, so we try to contribute to projects like those,” Ross describes. “But we get random requests all the time. We go wherever help is needed.”

And, that’s not just where humans are concerned.

Since the advent of the committee, Ross knew she had to include an animal rescue. They currently work with Escambia Animal Shelter, PAWS, Santa Rosa County Animal Services and other local shelters to sponsor and foster pets in hopes of getting them to their forever homes.

“These are dogs that are going to be euthanized — whether just for their breed, or if they have medical conditions that are preventing them from being adopted,” Ross explains. “We take them in, vet them and find them a family.”

This is an entirely foster-based operation, meaning these pups aren’t cooped up in a facility. Rather, members of the Joy Committee welcome these babies into their own homes, help them heal and provide plenty of love to last them into their new lives. Currently, Ross is fostering a dog that she’s had for about a year now. 

Jasmine Ross cuddles with Sable, being fostered by the Ross family. Joy Committee volunteer Joan Bastura has fostered more than 50 dogs.

“You do get attached! But at the same time, I want her to find a new home because that means I can save more.”

That seems to be a shared attitude between Ross and one of the volunteers, Joan Bastura, who has fostered over 50 dogs during her time with the committee. After training Malamutes for over 40 years, 

Bastura nurtures dogs with behavioral issues to get them family-ready. She is specifically fond of fostering Shepherd breeds, though Ross keeps an eye out for needy canines of all shapes, sizes … and colors. 

Have you ever heard of Black Dog Syndrome? It’s common knowledge at shelters that breeds with pure black fur are often skipped over and ignored. That’s why it’s especially important for Ross to scoop up those black beauties, as well as breeds like pitties and bull dogs who aren’t people’s first choice.

“A lot of these are abandoned dogs, or litters of puppies that have just been dumped,” Ross says. “They’re often heartworm-positive, but that’s an easy fix that people don’t want to fuss with because they look sickly, or they’re afraid their medical bills will cost them a lot of money, when that’s not true. We work with a couple of vets at Ferry Pass Animal Hospital of Pensacola who provide excellent preventative care and get them fully healed.”

As this is a complete 501c3 non profit group, no volunteers or official members of the committee are compensated for their time or resources. This means your donations wholeheartedly go toward the community and pets, be it through the animal or children’s hospitals, toy drives or nourishment for the homeless. 

“It comes down to what you’re passionate about. We’d always love to have more fosters, more people to help feed the homeless or to visit the children’s hospital and nursing homes. We just want to make a positive impact on the world, and you’re welcome to join us.”