Ridgefield area high school students and adults on an annual Appalachia Service Project mission trip


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

Based at Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, Jesse Lee ASP is in its 38th year. Due to the pandemic, Jesse Lee ASP shared their efforts this year, offering the option of the traditional Appalachian trip and an “at home” version.

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

Teams of two adults and four students team up to repair, build, or replace roofs, foundations, mobile home foundations, and wheelchair ramps, while developing relationships with home residents.

They eat and sleep in “centres” organized and managed in schools and churches by the national organization ASP. Saturday’s leaving celebration included recognizing five Ridgefield teens who participated in ASP through all four years of high school.

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

The scholarship is awarded to a senior graduate who has participated in ASP at least once and who has engaged in ongoing community service in areas other than ASP. The Kentucky volunteers will return to Ridgefield in a long caravan of horns on Sunday, July 10 around 4 p.m. for a welcome reception for Jesse Lee.

For an updated return time, check the website www.jesseleeasp.org Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, 50 additional Jesse Lee ASP volunteers are working as a team 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 the ASP tradition, they also eat meals together and join “evening meetings”.

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

Jesse Lee ASP will celebrate his 2022 work in two ways: with ice cream at the church on Saturday, July 16 at 6:30 p.m. with a slideshow of all crew’s 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 crews 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 manager in McDowell County, WV; Claire Dollins is Center Manager in Bell County, KY; Chiara Signorelli is volunteer coordinator in Nicholas County, WV; and Bella Lussi is Finance Coordinator in Floyd County, KY.

Their duties include helping to assess homeowner requests, stocking the “center” with tools and supplies, planning and overseeing home repairs, hosting and assisting weekly volunteer shifts, and much more.

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

Before COVID, Jesse Lee ASP had become the second largest local ASP group in America. The entire National ASP program was canceled in 2020 due to 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 Appalachian Local Service Project, call Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church at (203) 438-8791 or visit www.jesseleeasp.org.

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