Dr. John Wessner, a physics professor and Chairman of the Department of Physics at Towson University, became involved in Sandtown Habitat through a student, Susan Tibbels. She introduced him to the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown, where she had recently moved with her family to begin church-based community development programs. Her husband had initiated the Sandtown affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit housing organization with 1,500 affiliates throughout the United States that builds affordable housing for families in need. In Sandtown there are more than 800 units of vacant housing awaiting rehabilitation.
Dr. Wessner, with a background in heating installation, put his experience into action and began volunteering for Sandtown Habitat in 1990. He designed and installed a heating system in a two-story row house. Dr. Wessner and his wife participated in the dedication of the home on December 23rd and brought along a Christmas tree as a gift for the new homeowners.
Nine years later, Dr. Wessner is still Sandtown Habitat's most faithful volunteer, having designed and installed heating systems in more than 120 Habitat houses in Sandtown. As a result, families have a comfortable, warm home during Baltimore's cold winters.
At 60 years of age, Dr. Wessner lives as if he's half of that. Whether it's the heat of summer or the cold of winter, he can be found climbing through basements and crawl spaces installing ductwork and furnaces. Since every heating system requires at least 30 hours in design and installation. Dr. Wessner has invested a minimum of 3,600 hours since 1990, more than 1,200 during 1998 alone. And with average labor costs charged by a subcontractor for this work averaging at least $2,000 per unit, Wessner has saved Habitat in excess of $80,000 during 1998 and more than $240,000 since he began in 1990.
Allan Tibbels, Co-Executive Director of Sandtown Habitat for Humanity, Inc., remarks, "Wessner epitomizes the American volunteer spirit, partnering with us to rebuild homes and hope in this historic Baltimore neighborhood."