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Skylar “Sky” Shurr follows in Pastor Eric Johns’ footsteps

Author: Mark Lazzara

A little after daybreak on Black Friday, I found myself not a Walmart, but on Delaware and Chippewa to connect with my old friend Pastor Eric Johns. The founder of  the Buffalo Dream Center was living on the streets, to raise money and bring awareness to the homeless problem in Buffalo.  I was wondering how things were working out, as he was on the streets for the coldest week of the year.

During my visit, I came across an outstanding young man – Eric’s son-in-law, Skylar “Sky” Shurr, 23 years of age. Since the age of five, Sky has been watching Eric, and following by example. By doing so, Sky has learned valuable lessons that you just can’t grasp by reading books or browsing the internet. Along the way, Sky and his wife Victoria (22 years old) have been groomed to take over these selfless efforts, one day when Pastor Eric and his wife Pastor Michelle are prepared to step aside.  The young couple’s passion for serving Buffalo’s indigent appears to be in their DNA, just as it is with Eric and Michelle. Because of their desire to confront the challenging issues of homelessness, they continue to prepare themselves for the journeys and life lessons that are ahead.

Sky’s commitment inspired me so much, that I felt that the need to ask him a few questions:

What do you do to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Sky: Feeding the homeless and sharing the Lord. Staying on the streets has altered my ability to celebrate Thanksgiving like a normal person. I spent Thanksgiving day giving away food at the Chippewa Hotel and close to the bus station on Division Street.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered?

Sky: I observed that the people who live on the streets sincerely take care of each other. Being with the homeless showed me that people who have nothing, care for their own. Many displayed concerns about each other’s family and concerns for their fellow homeless friends without expecting anything in return. They value friendship.

Little Johns - Sky's young brother in-law joins them on the streets
Little Johns – Sky’s young brother in-law joins them on the streets

What was the most difficult part of your week on the street?

Sky: The most difficult part of the week was being with Pastor Eric sleeping under a bridge with rats and finding a dozen used heroin needles.

sky-buffalo-ny-homeless-buffalo-ny-3

Where are you going to school next year?

Sky: Victoria and I are together at The Roar, a missionary school. We arrived up from Indiana this Thanksgiving to support and bring awareness for the rising homeless population in Buffalo.

Why do you believe there is a rising homeless issue in Buffalo?

Sky: I believe that the homeless population is rising due to grave mental illness and drug misuse. Additionally, many very poor folks can’t believe they can get out of poverty.

Pastor Eric, his son, son- in-laws and former homeless man Keith
Pastor Eric, his son, son- in-laws and former homeless man Keith

What made you desire to help others?

Sky: When I was 10 years old, I went on a mission trip to the Philippines with my father. I saw people living amongst garbage, where they spent all day going through the garbage just to get enough to burn to stay warm. The median life span of someone who is in the garbage village in the Philippines is a very heartbreaking 40 years. Seeing that level of poverty deeply and emotionally affected me and inspired me to get involved in building many water purifying systems that help people live longer because they have access to germ free water.

You are still young. How long do you see yourself doing this?

Sky: All my life – I desire to work in the mission field, feeding people and guiding them to Christ. After being around the Johns family, my mission is for people.

Is it difficult to help people?

Sky: At first I found it hard and stressful to serve people, but then I realized that it is so much worse for the people served. It’s not as stressful when you realize it is not about you. A year and a half ago, my family home burned down, I lost my job and my car all on the same day. Being homeless myself, I had to live in my grandparent’s backyard tree house. It’s much easier to help people when you went through a similar thing. Being homeless could happen to anyone at anytime.

sky-buffalo-ny-homeless-buffalo-ny-4How is it working with Pastor Eric?

Sky: As a young man it was a little intimidating at first to work with Pastor Eric. He has spent his entire life helping the homeless – it’s an honor to serve beside him. Pastor Eric leads by example, by being, the 1st person on the job and the last one out. He loves people, and makes me want to make a difference.

Give me a story about something that really touched your heart.

Sky: A Burmese single mom did not have enough beds for the wellbeing of her six children. Child Protection Services was on their way to her home to take her children away. I was at the Dream Center and we had mattresses to be donated. When I brought the mattresses to her home she started crying in the doorway. She thanked me because now she would not have her children takeaway. Being able to help someone keep their children, felt like a powerful thing.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Sky: I believe that you do not have to leave America to help people. In that respect there are people right here in America that need your help. As a Canadian immigrant, I have fallen in love with Victoria, the city of Buffalo and its people.

Pastor Eric and Michelle Johns are raising money for their Boxes of Love program, which will give almost 4000 Buffalo families and their children food and toys for this Christmas.  They can be reached directly through their website www.buffalodreamcenter.org

All photos by Victoria Shurr

Written by Mark Lazzara

Mark Lazzara

I have a passion for helping my fellow Western New Yorkers and advance the great things that are going on in this region. Buffalo Rising is a great booster and it’s a blast writing and contributing to BR about positive happenings in our neck of the woods. I appreciate the help I’ve received over the years from organizations and people who share my passion and supported me in efforts that put thousands of people to work and resulted in a community give back of more than $115M to Buffalo’s neediest during my days at the helm of AmeriCorps.

I’m especially grateful for the opportunities that enabled me to help cities devastated by Hurricane Katrina and rebuild more than 700 family homes that were destroyed. Back at home, I was able to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience as a coordinator for ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition where we were able to repair, beautify and upgrade homes for an entire neighborhood on Buffalo’s Westside. Other projects close to my heart include a collaboration with Sail Buffalo to build the Cazenovia Boating Center at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, and my annual Christmas season time is spent at Buffalo’s treasure, the Broadway Market, playing Santa Clause.

In my other life, I am a workforce development, business, marketing, public relations and fundraising professional. Earned a M.S. Human Service Management from Buffalo State, and enjoy my family life that includes four amazing grandchildren!

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  • Josh Tomaka

    Anybody know how many homeless people there are in Buffalo now? I read last winter that the program to give city-owned houses to the homeless was drastically reducing the number of homeless but this article says the number is rising again.