Jesse Lee sends record number of volunteers south

A record 199 high school students and adults from the Ridgefield area are on their annual Appalachia Service Project mission trip this week, working to make homes “warmer, safer and drier” in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

The local ASP group, now in its 34th year, departed in 30 vans and SUVs early Saturday morning, after a commissioning ceremony with family and friends at Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, the group’s home base.

Participation in Jesse Lee ASP has set or tied a record in four straight years: 165 in 2014, 183 in both 2015 and ’16, and now 199. This year’s number again means that more than 1% of the 16,000 total volunteers from around the nation participating in ASP this summer are from Ridgefield.

Last Saturday’s departure celebration included recognition of 19 recent graduates who have participated in ASP during all four years of high school. (The 19 “four-year” seniors is also a Jesse Lee ASP record.) Those seniors are: Jackson Cashman, Michael DelGiudice, Katie Dimm, Eric Dollins, Jared Donnelly, Grace Franklin, Evan Hogan, Ty Howley, Desmond Kager, Alex Kinsman, Bella Leal, Alec Leonard, Aaron Miller, Nick Patterson, Gordon Santiago, Matt Shannon, Joe Signorelli, Tate Sigworth and Nick Van den Nieunenhuizen. All are recent Ridgefield High School graduates except for Leal, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., but returned for this mission trip.

This year’s 199 participants are split up, working this week in Nicholas and Wyoming counties in West Virginia, as well as Boyd County, Ky., and Wise County, Va. Crews of two adults and four or five students team up to repair, build or replace roofs, foundations, floors, interior walls 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.

The Jesse Lee ASP group will return to Ridgefield in a honking waving caravan this Sunday, July 9, at approximately 5 p.m., for a welcoming reception at Jesse Lee.

The Jesse Lee ASP group will celebrate their safe return in two ways: with an ice cream social at the church on Sat., July 15 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 16 at 9:30 a.m.  All are invited to both.

Jesse Lee ASP is open to anyone who has completed their freshman year of high school.

Funds to support Jesse Lee ASP’s trip 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.

In addition to the local teams working in Appalachia this week, two Ridgefield High graduates — each of them four-year participants in Jesse Lee ASP — are working in Appalachia all summer as paid ASP staff members. Robbie Jones is a center staffer for a second summer, this time in Rutherford County, N.C., and Caitlyn Brandon is in her first year on summer staff, assigned to Lincoln County, W.V. Their tasks include helping to evaluate applications from homeowners, stock the “center” with tools and supplies, plan and oversee home repairs, host and assist the weekly teams of volunteers, and much more.

For more information about the local Appalachia Service Project, call Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church at (203) 438-8791 or go to