Keith Wasserman grew up in Cleveland Heights/ University Heights Ohio and lived there until his family moved to Centerville, Ohio during his high school years. After graduating from Centerville High School, Keith came to Athens in 1976 as a freshman to attend Ohio University. Keith is the Founder and Executive Director of Good Works, Inc., a Christian Community and non-profit ministry which provides care, compassion and service to people struggling with poverty in rural Appalachia.
Although Good Works began as a result of an Ohio University Mental Health internship during his senior year in college, the real beginning for Keith’s work came when he experienced a life-transformation as a result of receiving Christ into his life at the age of 17. Keith had been born Jewish, and was initially hostile toward Christians but was profoundly transformed by the love of God he experienced through a personal relationship with Jesus during his latter high school years.
Encountering Jesus was no stage for Keith. It affected his life in a way that nothing else ever had. That change in him has resulted in a vision to see the good news about Jesus demonstrated as well as proclaimed. Good Works was created as an avenue to demonstrate the love of God which Keith and others have experienced personally.
Keith established Good Works in January 1981 through the support of the friends he met primarily in the Athens Christian Community. Keith and Darlene were married in September 1981 and continued to develop Good Works Inc. out of the basement of their home on Elliott Street. In 1984, Good Works moved from the Wasserman’s home to a home on Central Avenue and in 1987 the Wasserman’s moved from Elliott Street out into the countryside near Strouds Run Park . In 2013, the Wasserman’s relocated after 25 years back into the city of Athens in order to open their home once again to people who were experiencing homelessness. They now live only a few steps from The Timothy House on the west side of Athens and continue to receive men, women and children into their home who are referred to them through The Timothy House staff. Their new initiative is called SIGN OF HOPE.
The Keith Wasserman Story in his own words…
It was in January of 1975 that I came home one night, sort of “glowing.” Looking me in the eye, my mother said to me, “What did you take?” “Nothing Mom,” I responded a bit humorously, “I’ve just come from Church; I’ve given my life to Jesus Christ!”
Well, I don’t recall her initial reaction, but I imagine she thought it was another one of those ‘stages’ I was going through. You see, I’d been through my photography stage (I bought my own camera and developing material), my motorcycle stage, my rock and roll music stage (The Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, The Who, Led Zeppelin and others), my drug abuse stage and my Transcendental Meditation stage (I paid my $35.00, and got my mantra). So I could imagine my mother saying “Oh no, my son the Jesus Freak.” But that was over 38 years ago and today, if she were still alive I suspect she would say ‘Jesus doesn’t make freaks out of people, he makes people out of freaks’.
A friend from my radio broadcasting class in my High School told me about Jesus back in October 1974. I responded balkingly, “I’m Jewish–we don’t believe in Jesus.” Little did I know that Jesus was Jewish and everyone who initially followed him was Jewish. I was 16 years old then and the only thing I had ever heard about Jesus was when my father got angry. “Jesus Christ!” he would say. I always thought that ‘Christ’ was the guy’s last name. Little did I know that his name was a Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah; that Jesus was ‘the Christ’ or ‘the Messiah.’
I was 12 years old when my father died. We were living in Cleveland at the time. His death was sudden and a shock to us all; my mother was most unprepared; she had to raise 3 boys. Well…from the age of 12 years on, I basically did my own thing, wherever I wanted and whenever I wanted. Almost no one told me what to do except my oldest brother once in a while, but since I was following his example, life was ‘easy street’ or so I thought.
My friends from Elementary school were into sports during our first year of Junior High and since I wasn’t too athletically inclined, there wasn’t much acceptance awaiting me in the seventh grade. So, following the examples of my brothers, I turned to the acceptance and the thrills found in using drugs. I started using and selling sopors (Quaaludes) almost daily and later progressed to using and selling LSD and speed. I was sort of swept up into the whole thing really; drugs for me were new, daring, exciting, and neat and if you were a user, you were ‘cool.’ For the next 5 years of my life, I became your basic deviant. I continued to attend Jewish synagogue those years, but had no knowledge of or real interest in God. I didn’t really think about whether he existed and I didn’t really care. I was a ‘freak’ (and proud of it.) I liked the word and the stereotype that went with it. I sold different kinds of dope to Junior High and High School kids and found plenty of what I thought to be acceptance and fulfillment in doing it. In fact, dope was my god, or as the philosopher Tillich would say “My Ultimate Concern.” In other words, that to which my life was totally devoted and centered around. I never considered myself religious. It wasn’t accepted by my friends. The closest I ever came to religion was when I was confirmed in our Jewish synagogue and even in doing that, I had ulterior motives for money. No, I was into and had a hold on drugs or should I say drugs were into and had a hold on me. I was in darkness and could not see light. My motivational drive decreased the more I used drugs and I found school and life to be ‘a drag.’ I carried a “D” average those years and my whole life continued to center itself around anything but reality. I had quite an opportunity to travel up to that point in my life and I had seen many different life styles, including those of the courtroom. I was 16 years old and already had quite a juvenile record.
My mother re-married in December 1973 and our family moved the following June to Dayton Ohio. At the time we moved, I was just recovering from totaling the family car. I hit a tree in reverse doing 45 mph. I was a drunk driver. I had also fallen off a cliff while hiking outside of Cleveland a few weeks earlier. I fell 35 feet and landed on my back. I recovered with no broken bones. Someone was watching out for me! Because of the time of year it was when we moved, it became very difficult for me to make friends. No longer did I have the drugs and drug-buddies I needed and no longer was I the big dope dealer. As the summer progressed, I became frustrated, lonely, angry and empty.
About mid-way through the school year, one of my classmates in the radio program began telling me about Jesus. After his third and fourth try, I finally began to listen. He told me that “GOD LOVED ME,” (whether I liked it or not and whether I knew it or not) and that He had a purpose for my life. He said that Jesus came so that I might have life and might have it meaningfully. Up to this point, I thought ‘life’ was going out on Saturday nights, and getting so high that you couldn’t even remember what happened when you woke up the next day.
The second thing my friend told me was that the reason I wasn’t experiencing this life was because my desire to live my life my way (known and unknown rebellion) alienated me from God’s plan and purpose. He said that God had created me to enjoy Him but that sin had produced a barrier (Isaiah 59:1-2). He explained that one of the consequences of sin was running or hiding from God, which results in blindness. He told me that ever since the first man (Adam) willfully chose to rebel against his maker, a spiritual ‘death’ has marred and marked every person. Not really knowing much about what he was saying, I just listened.
The third thing he told me was that Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews, was God’s cure/remedy for my sins and for the living death that I was experiencing. He said it was through Him, believing on His name that I could know and experience God’s love and plan for me and have a spiritual birth that would save me ultimately from an eternal death. I didn’t understand it all then and I don’t claim to understand it all now but I know in whom I believe and I am convinced that He is able to keep my life committed unto Him. My friend told me I would experience Joy, Peace and Purpose–three words rarely in my vocabulary–if I would only “call upon the name of the Lord” and commit my life to Jesus the Messiah.
A few weeks later, while riding in the car on my way to a doctor’s appointment, I gave my life to Christ. While reading a little booklet he had given me, I though to myself, “What have I got to lose?” I said, “Jesus, if you’re real, become real to me.” HE DID and from that day, my life has changed in oh…so many ways. Today, almost 40 years later, I am still eternally grateful that I have new life and that, even when I wasn’t searching for God, He was searching for me.
Since becoming a believer and a follower of Jesus, God has begun the process of helping me ‘get my act together’, see people from God’s perspective and has been producing in my life good works, the outward expression of the inward change. In 1981, God directed me to begin an outreach initiative in my own home to people who were struggling with poverty and homelessness; people who feel excluded. Every few years since 1989, I have taken time out for a few days to live on the streets with people who are without a home in order to better understand what homelessness is really like. You can read more about these experiences by clicking here.
I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (740) 541.0816
If you would like to talk personally with me concerning what God has done in my life, I am happy to talk with you.
Updated January 2017