High school students, adults from Ridgefield area on annual Appalachia Service Project mission trip

From left, P.J. Reiner, Caspar Browning, Annie Haughney, Alexa Sasse and Eric Pereira.

From left, P.J. Reiner, Caspar Browning, Annie Haughney, Alexa Sasse and Eric Pereira.

Dave Sigworth / Contributed photo

RIDGEFIELD — High school students and adults from the Ridgefield area are on their annual Appalachia Service Project mission trip this week, with 127 volunteers working to make homes “warmer, safer and drier” in Kentucky and another 50 doing repairs locally.

Based out of Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, Jesse Lee ASP is in its 38 th year. Because of the pandemic, Jesse Lee ASP split its efforts this year, offering the option of the traditional trip down to Appalachia and an “at-home” version.

The 127 traveling volunteers departed early Saturday morning after a commissioning ceremony at Jesse Lee with family and friends. They split up, working this week in Floyd and Magoffin counties in Kentucky.

Crews of two adults and four students team up to repair, build or replace roofs, foundations, mobile-home underpinning and wheelchair ramps, while also developing relationships with the homes’ residents.

They’re eating and sleeping in “centers” organized and operated in schools and churches by the national ASP organization. Saturday’s departure celebration included recognition of five Ridgefield teens who have participated in ASP during all four years of high school.

They are: Caspar Browning, Annie Haughney, Eric Pereira, P.J. Reiner and Alexa Sasse. Additionally, Parker Etzbach of Wilton was named recipient of the John Ward Love in Action Award, a $1,000 scholarship established in 2017 that honors John Ward, who is in his 34th year of participating in Jesse Lee ASP.

The scholarship is awarded to a graduating senior who has been on ASP at least once and who has committed to ongoing community service in other arenas besides ASP. The Kentucky volunteers will return to Ridgefield in a long honking caravan on Sun., July 10 around 4 p.m. for a welcoming reception at Jesse Lee.

For an updated time of return, watch the website www.jesseleeasp.org on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, 50 additional Jesse Lee ASP volunteers are working in teams this week to repair one house each in Danbury, Redding and Ridgefield.

Projects include painting, building stairs, landscaping, building a wheelchair ramp, and repairing windows. In ASP tradition, they’re also eating meals together and joining in “evening gatherings.”

Funds to support Jesse Lee ASP’s work were raised through car washes held at Jesse Lee on Saturdays this spring, from “stock” sold by participants, and through gifts from the Jesse Lee congregation.

Jesse Lee ASP will celebrate its 2022 work in two ways: with an ice cream social at the church on Sat., July 16 at 6:30 p.m. featuring a slide show of all the crews’ experiences; and a special Sunday-morning service at Jesse Lee on July 17 at 9:30 a.m. All are invited to both.

In addition to the teams working this week in Kentucky and local towns, four college students from Ridgefield (all Jesse Lee ASP veterans) are working all summer in Appalachia as paid ASP staff members.

Johannes Bonwetsch is center director in McDowell County, W.V.; Claire Dollins is center director in Bell County, KY; Chiara Signorelli is volunteer coordinator in Nicholas County, WV; and Bella Lussi is finance coordinator in Floyd County, KY.

Their tasks include helping to evaluate applications from homeowners, stocking the “center” with tools and supplies, planning and overseeing home repairs, hosting and assisting the weekly teams of volunteers, and much more.

Appalachia Service Project is a national Christian volunteer organization whose participants make an annual weeklong mission trip where they work to make local folks’ homes “warmer, safer and drier.” Since its founding in 1969, more than 410,000 volunteers from across the nation have repaired 18,300 homes in central Appalachia.

Pre-COVID, Jesse Lee ASP had grown to become the second-largest local ASP group in America. The entire national ASP program was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but Jesse Lee ASP sent 281 volunteers in 2019. Jesse Lee ASP is open to anyone who has completed their freshman year of high school. For more information about the local Appalachia Service Project, call Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church at (203) 438-8791 or go to www.jesseleeasp.org.