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In praise of ASP

ASP crew and members of the family they helped at work site in West Virginia.

ASP crew and members of the family they helped at a work site in West Virginia.

For eight years, my husband Jerry has spent one week of his vacation time on a trip without me.

I’m not jealous though, because he’s taken those trips to Appalachia, doing construction work like installing plumbing fixtures, painting rooms in sweltering heat, and digging drainage swales. Not my idea of a fun vacation.

Jerry has taken this annual trek as a volunteer with the Appalachian Service Project (ASP), a Christian ministry group that does home repairs for families in Central Appalachia.

My husband brought a bagful of his "special hats" on the ASP trip, including his Cheesehead and Curling Rock.

My husband brought a bagful of his “special hats” on the ASP trip, including his Cheesehead and Curling Rock.

Each year our church, The Congregational Church of New Fairfield, sends a group of teens and young adults down south to work on home improvement projects. This year they sent 48 people in seven vans down to Oak Hill in Fayette County, West Virginia. Other churches across the country do the same.

This year, ASP selected 14 homes as repair sites. Crews spent one week at their assigned site, followed in tag team fashion the next week by another group to continue the project. Home improvement projects this year included repairs to a drainage system, putting a roof on a home, tearing down an old porch and putting up a new one, interior home repairs, and putting siding on a house.

At my husband’s site, nicknamed “Sugar Rush,” two crews worked together to add a two-room addition to a house, renovate a bathroom, paint rooms, and install new flooring.

Two-room addition at "Sugar Rush" site in Appalachia.

Two-room addition at “Sugar Rush” site in Appalachia.

Jerry got to know the family at the site, a mother, father, their two sons — ages 8 and 6, a 20-month old baby, and the mother’s sister. The six of them were living in a two-bedroom house. The family of five was occupying one bedroom, the aunt was in the other. The family requested help from ASP to build a two-room addition — new bedrooms for the boys.

The house had been in the owner’s family for about 50 years and was originally built by a coal mining company for its workers. It was built in a cheap, box-style construction, rather than using studs, making renovations difficult. To make things worse, a small creek nearby had flooded a couple years ago and caused damage to the home. An outside engineer was called in by ASP to inspect the home, and it was approved for the addition.

While one crew worked on the addition, Jerry’s crew was tasked with finishing the installation of a new living room floor, renovating and painting the bathroom, and painting the living room and a bedroom. That’s a lot of work for one week.

To ASP volunteers, the experience is more than just a construction project. They get to know the families they are working with, and share meals, activities, and stories. “I think of it as a relationship ministry that does home repairs,” Jerry said.

He said making a connection with the family and talking about their lives is the best part of the trip. “It’s a huge difference for them, but just a small effort for me,” he said with a smile.

Sounds like a pretty good vacation after all.

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