A record 242 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 and Kentucky.

The Jesse Lee ASP group, now in its 35th year, departed in 37 vans and SUVs early Saturday morning, after a commissioning ceremony with family and friends. This year’s send-off had to be held in Ridgefield High School’s auditorium, because everyone no longer fits in the sanctuary of Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, the group’s home base.

Participation in Jesse Lee ASP has set or tied a record for five straight years: 165 in 2014; 183 in both 2015 and ’16; 199 last year; and now 242. This year’s number again means that Jesse Lee ASP is the second-largest local ASP group in the United States.

Saturday’s departure celebration included recognition of 13 recent graduates who have participated in ASP during all four years of high school. They are: Kevin Andros, Johannes Bonwetsch, Saralyn Collins, Amanda Condron, Payton Creamer, James DeMatteo, Claire Dollins, Kay Ingulli, Eddie Marquez, Ruby Mitchell, Gillian Retter, Stephen Scheck and Mitchell Van der Noll.

Additionally, Gillian Retter was named recipient of the John Ward Love in Action Award, a $1,000 grant established last year that honors John Ward, now in his 31st year of participating in Jesse Lee ASP. The grant 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.

This year’s 242 Jesse Lee ASP participants are split up, working this week in Clay County, West Virginia, and in Breathitt and Leslie counties in Kentucky. 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. Family and friends can follow their efforts on the Jesse Lee ASP Facebook page.

The volunteers will return to Ridgefield in a honking, waving caravan Sunday, July 8, 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 14, 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 15, at 9:30 a.m.  All are invited to both.

Appalachia Service Project is a national Christian volunteer organization whose participants make an annual week-long 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.

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 (and Jesse Lee ASP veterans) are working in Appalachia all summer as paid ASP staff members. Caitlyn Brandon, a third-year nursing student at Georgetown University, is director of the ASP center in Cocke County, Tenn. And Alexa Dragon, a junior at Clemson University, is operations coordinator in Magoffin 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.

For more information call the church at 203-438-8791 or go to www.jesseleeasp.org.