Project Erie: A Man and A Mission

Andy Kerr | A man and A Mission

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“I fell in love with the city (Erie) and with the people.”

What if…. 

Your parents didn’t care about your education? If no one in your family ever went to college?  Would you even know how to apply? What if everyone you knew put you down every time you tried to improve yourself? What if you were a single mother of four with no money and no transportation – how would you do laundry? 

The Man

Andy Kerr, part-time Chaplain of the Erie City Mission, explained that for most of us these are realities we don’t think about. But for those living in poverty in Erie these issues create roadblocks most of us can’t comprehend. If you don’t know Andy, he can be found regularly on Facebook hosting “Wake Up with Andy.” 

He became friends with the people of Erie, “Poverty turned into faces and real people. It was no longer an issue to solve,” Andy realized the things we struggle with and how we cope with them may be different but given our circumstances any one of us could end up in poverty or face an addiction. That was a real “come to Jesus moment. We are all the same.” 

Poverty is About Survival

I’m sure you’ve heard people say it – the people on the corners asking for help, they’re scamming. They’re lazy. Why don’t they get a job… But Andy says poverty is about survival, nobody dreams about standing on a corner with a cardboard sign begging for food or asking for help. People in poverty are in a DAILY survival mode. Some just need food, or they’re trying to get by or maybe they’re supporting a drug habit; but he stresses not everyone is mentally ill or an addict. For many it’s simply learned helplessness, they believe it’s never going to get better, so it doesn’t. Belief is powerful - if we believe it’s never going to better it probably won’t.

Andy believes these roadblocks can be overcome for those who want to. He compares it to the Twelve Step program. He says the first step is owning your reality and wanting to get help. surrendering your life and will to God, inviting a sponsor into your life, working on character defects, then giving back to other people. He says “That process works for anyone that wants to do something with their life. If we want to do anything we have to own the problem to over-come it. We have to be humble enough to receive the help.”

The Erie City Mission’s nine-month addiction recovery programs help people get on their feet, find apartments, look for and help them find work. In fact, the third phase of construction is being built by a gentleman who graduated from their program. He’s essentially working for the company on the building that helped get him on his feet.

 Andy says, “It’s awesome to see men and women get reestablished in the Erie Community, sponsoring others in their recovery.”

Over the past forty years 95% of the funding for the Erie City Mission has come from private donors. In the history of Erie Gives Day the mission is usually towards the top in amount and almost always highest in the number of donors. What does this mean? People believe in and support the ECM. Being a mostly private funded non-profit organization allows the ECM to maintain their core values which is a Christ centered. Love God and love your neighbor.

The Mission

The Erie City Mission’s goal is to restore hope and transform lives. Every day they provide a public lunch and Tuesdays and Thursdays they offer a Food Pantry. It’s not just about living in poverty. Andy says there are working class poor who use the public lunch to help stretch their budget, many can’t afford groceries. Some people come to connect, listen to a good message and participate. He says it’s all about meeting people right where they’re at.

“Stories are the things that transform us...We all have a story. We all have certain experiences. We’ve all been through stuff and I believe our story can help change somebody else to connect with. But we gotta take the time to listen to other people’s stories too instead of assuming you know the story and why they’re in the situation they’re in. I think that’s why I love the city mission so much is because I’ve heard so many amazing stories from people that given their circumstances I would be right where they are or worse off.” 

Andy believes we need to work both sides of the issue if we’re going to solve poverty in Erie. We have to create better leaders as well as work with those in poverty if we’re going to solve the issue. “It’s also why I started my business. We can’t just work with people in poverty. We need to be a city that is attracting business. Creating a better place for people to work. Working on the problem from two different directions starting life coaching and speaking.”

We can avoid problems or can take a little risk and maybe get a great story or experience out of trying to help. What if the next time you see someone on the street you say hello? What if you simply ask their name? You might make a new friend. Buy them a coffee and listen to their story. You might just make a difference! 

To find out more about Andy Kerr Coaching click here


Erica Whiting is a Pennsylvania based portrait photographer