Jesse Lee Church repairing homes with 135 Ridgefield volunteers

Prior to departing last Saturday on its annual mission trip, the Jesse Lee Appalachia Service Project in Ridgefield honored 13 teens who have participated in the home repair ministry during their four years of high school. Bottom row: Anna Skare, Emory Haines and Eva McKinley. Second row: Annika Bonwetsch, Bella Lussi and Lily Walsh. Third row: Kate Fleming and Kate Bucci. Back row: Jake O'Brien, Parker Etzbach, Ethan Mills and Reid Etzbach. Not pictured: Cate Ousey.

Prior to departing last Saturday on its annual mission trip, the Jesse Lee Appalachia Service Project in Ridgefield honored 13 teens who have participated in the home repair ministry during their four years of high school. Bottom row: Anna Skare, Emory Haines and Eva McKinley. Second row: Annika Bonwetsch, Bella Lussi and Lily Walsh. Third row: Kate Fleming and Kate Bucci. Back row: Jake O’Brien, Parker Etzbach, Ethan Mills and Reid Etzbach. Not pictured: Cate Ousey.

Contributed photo

High school students and adults from the Ridgefield area are on their annual Jesse Lee Appalachia Service Project mission trip this week, with 85 volunteers working to make homes “warmer, safer and drier” in West Virginia, and another 50 doing local repairs nearby in Bethel.

ASP is a national Christian volunteer organization whose participants take an annual week-long mission trip to make improve people’s homes in central Appalachia. Since its founding in 1969, more than 410,000 volunteers from across the nation have repaired 18,300 homes there.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church ASP split its efforts this year, offering interested volunteers the option of the traditional trip to Appalachia as well as an “at-home” excursion.

Eighty-five volunteers departed early Saturday morning after a commissioning ceremony at the church with family and friends. The volunteers split up, working in Cabell and Clay counties in West Virginia. Crews of two adults and four students team up to repair, build or replace roofs, foundations, mobile home underpinnings and wheelchair ramps while also developing relationships with the homes’ residents. The volunteers are also eating and sleeping in centers that are organized and operated in schools and churches by ASP.

Saturday’s celebration included a recognition of 13 teens who have participated in ASP during their four years of high school. They are: Annika Bonwetsch, Kate Bucci, Parker Etzbach, Reid Etzbach, Kate Fleming, Emory Haines, Bella Lussi, Eva McKinley, Ethan Mills, Cate Ousey, Jake O’Brien, Anna Skare and Lily Walsh.

Additionally, Fleming was named the recipient of the John Ward Love in Action Award, which grants her a $1,000 scholarship. The scholarship, established in 2017, honors its namesake John Ward, who has participated in ASP for more than three decades. The scholarship is awarded to a graduating senior who has volunteered with the project at least once, and who has committed to ongoing community service in other arenas.

The West Virginia volunteers will return to Ridgefield in a honking caravan on July 4 for a welcoming reception at Jesse Lee.

Fifty other volunteers are working this week on an “at home” project to repair two houses in Bethel. Tasks include painting, building stairs, landscaping, building a wheelchair ramp and repairing windows.

Jesse Lee will celebrate its most recent work with ASP at an ice cream social on Friday, July 9, at 8 p.m. at the church. It will feature a slideshow of all the crews’ who participated and testimonials of their experiences. The parish will also recognize the volunteer’s efforts the following Sunday, July 11, during morning services at 9:30 a.m. All are invited to attend both events.

In addition to the teams working this week in West Virginia and Bethel, two college students from Ridgefield, who are both veterans of the project, are working in Appalachia this summer as paid staff members. Johannes Bonwetsch is the center director of Breathitt County, K.Y., and Claire Dollins is the ministries coordinator in Bell County, K.Y. Their tasks include helping to evaluate applications from homeowners, stocking the center with tools and supplies, planning and overseeing home repairs, hosting and assisting weekly teams of volunteers and more.

Jesse Lee ASP is open to anyone who has completed their freshman year of high school. Funds to support the volunteers from the church’s trip were raised through car washes and gifts from the church’s congregation.

For more information about ASP, call 203-438-8791 or visit jesseleeasp.org.