Real DonorStories

The Story of Johnny & Tanner

By Leslie Strader

Former Chicago Bears and University of Alabama running back Johnny Musso retired from a successful career in professional football 28 years ago. But he and his wife, Tanner, don’t live their lives on the sidelines. In this season of life, Johnny remains a man in motion, giving along with his family to Young Life, helping keep the mission of Young Life at the top of its game.

The Mussos first heard of Young Life in 1979 through their church in Chicago, Ill. The first time Johnny sat in on a Young Life club, he got a pie in the face. After that, Johnny became a volunteer leader and he and Tanner hosted a club for inner-city Cabrini Green in their home.

“We loved it,” Tanner recalled. “Here were these kids who came out of the ghetto, sitting around together singing about Christ. I think they were able to forget where they came from for a moment. It was almost like they had one heart for that hour and a half.”

That experience connected them to Young Life permanently. The Mussos were committee members for 20 years and Johnny is a former Young Life trustee.

“God has anointed Young Life in a special way,” Johnny said. “Their approach of earning the right to be heard and going where kids are and doing it in an offbeat and fun way really relates to kids. They’ve impacted hundreds of thousands of people through the years.”

The Mussos' five children were each involved in Young Life as teenagers. As they grew older, Johnny looked for ways to stay connected to the ministry as a family.

“We decided to create a family partnership where we invest together,” explained Johnny, who is also a former commodities and futures trader. “Out of that, I thought there must be ways to give as a family. So we established a Charitable Lead Trust through the Young Life Foundation that we named after my mother, Josie Musso.

“The trust provides a structured way to plan our giving ahead of time, and creates an instrument for our children to participate in how the monies are gifted. It not only perpetuates giving, it’s also a good estate planning tool. It’s a great place to invest in something eternal.”

The reason behind their giving is simple, Tanner said.

“We love kids and love the ministry. Young Life meets kids on their own terms and is very accepting of any kid who shows up. That has a huge impact on them.”

Johnny appreciates that Young Life is committed to its mission of reaching every kid, everywhere, for eternity.

“It’s important to me that they try to reach every kid,” he said. “Not just the suburban or popular kids. They reach the captain of the football team and the kid in band. They have a heart for disadvantaged kids and kids with disabilities. They reach out to every kid, and that’s what I think Jesus would do.”

Johnny and Tanner have seen great returns on their investments so far, and trust their giving strategy will continue to set up Young Life for success.

“The resources provided through the Young Life Foundation make it easy for me to participate in what I hope to accomplish,” Johnny said. “I hope we can always have a small part in the great ministry of Young Life.”

The Story of Iral & Gwen

By Leslie Strader

Nine thousand rocks don’t sound like much of a return on an investment. But for Iral and Gwen Barrett, the pile of stones represents an eternal acquisition that’s worth more than anything money can buy.

From 1996 to 1999, the Barretts made generous contributions of time and money to Washington Family Ranch, a then-new Young Life camping property in Antelope, Ore. The inaugural year, 1999, a tradition began: At the end of the camp week, each teenager who began a relationship with Christ tosses a rock on the growing pile in the camp’s welcome area to mark the decision.

Today, more than 9,000 rocks stand as testimony to the thousands of teenagers who were saved by the grace of God through the ministry of Young Life.

“Those rocks represent nearly 1,000 kids who accepted Christ every summer since Washington Family Ranch began,” Gwen said. “Tell me, where else but Young Life can you get that kind of return for your dollar?”

The Barretts were first introduced to Young Life in 1952 as high school seniors. Two years later, they were married and leading a club in Albany, Ore., while Iral was attending Willamette University.

Since those early days of serving as Young Life leaders, the Barretts have served on Young Life committees in Seattle, Salem, Sisters, Ore., and now in Maui, Hawaii.

Iral explains his financial commitment to Young Life this way: “I’ve always been impressed with the way Young Life knows how to reach out to kids and share the Gospel in an interesting, understandable and winning way. The leaders know how to walk with kids and earn the right to be heard. We give to certain individuals we believe are men and women of God doing an effective job of sharing the Gospel and teaching others to do the same.”

Iral and Gwen established the Barrett Family Fund through the Young Life Foundation in 1988 and when they sold their family business, Supra Products, Inc., in 1994 they contributed a tithe of the sales proceeds to the Barrett Family Fund.

“Every year, we review our fund balance and giving commitments. We make up a schedule which we give to the Young Life Foundation and they transfer the funds into the designated accounts every month. It facilitates thoughtful, committed giving in a systematic way that we feel works best for what we want to do.”

From committee to work crew and even mission staff, the Barretts' three children and six grandchildren have also been involved with Young Life. “Young Life has strengthened our own family,” Gwen said. “We’ve invested in Young Life and we’re seeing the best returns we can get.”

​ “The effect of what we’ve given to Washington Family Ranch will live on because it gives kids the opportunity to hear about Jesus while they have the time of their lives,” Iral said. “Young Life touches the young folks who are the future of our country, so our investment now and in the future will have an ongoing impact on Christian community. That’s the best legacy anyone can have.”

The Story of Doug & Norma

By Leslie Strader

Norma Madsen was a “church kid,” not the typical target teenager of Young Life ministry. But a fresh encounter with Christ at Frontier Ranch 54 years ago put her on the path to receiving a real relationship with Jesus, and for the last five decades, she and her husband, Doug, have been giving back to the ministry that has given so much to them.

“Young Life was a breath of fresh air,” said Norma, who went to Frontier Ranch when she was 15 years old. “I met Jesus as if for the first time at camp. There, I heard God’s invitation to be more fully human and fully alive. Since then I discover more every day that the God of my childhood was far too small.”

Currently, the Madsens are in the process of retiring from their construction, real estate development and management business in Madison, Wisc., but the couple will always be full-time servants in the kingdom of God. They met in Young Life’s volunteer leadership training at Wheaton College more than 50 years ago, and have been together ever since.

The Madsens spent the early days of their marriage under the teaching and training of Young Life mentors Marge Stone Petersen, Bill Starr and George Scheffer. “These were formative years of our marriage and ministry,” Norma said. “I will always remember George’s admonition to ‘walk your talk.’”

After graduation, the couple moved to Minneapolis, Minn.. and served as volunteer youth leaders in their church and with Young Life until a job opportunity took them to Wisconsin. There they established a business and started their own family of four children. Life moved along until one day, 15 years later, there was a knock on the door.

“A Young Life regional director named Jack Fortin saw our name on a donor list and drove up to hear our story and find out why we were giving to Young Life,” Norma said. “That was the beginning of a 35-year friendship. He and his wife, Sara, invited us to be partners with them to develop Young Life’s north central division. It was an experience of relational ministry and relational fundraising that was life-changing for us.”

Since then, Norma and Doug have been involved in every aspect of Young Life ministry. From her 14 years of service on the Young Life Board of Trustees to baking cookies and driving kids to club, the Madsens are committed to bringing the love of Christ to teenagers.

“This is a lifetime call,” Norma said. “God’s call to us as donors is as real to us as the staff’s call to full-time ministry.”

As part of that call, the Madsens have established a trust fund with the Young Life Foundation that they hope will help make camp accessible to more teens in the future.

“Our hope for our fund is that it would help make Young Life camps affordable for all kids,” she said. “We hope there could be a national effort to make camp more affordable so all kids can be included.”

As important as giving is to sustaining the mission of Young Life, Norma believes it’s also important to be involved in the lives of those the ministry is reaching. She and Doug live out that belief and hope their example will be their legacy.

“Young Life has shown generations of us how to live relationally with each other and with our Creator,” Norma said. “No matter how many zeros are in your giving, it’s nothing apart from prayer and giving time and attention and Christ’s love to kids, to volunteer leaders who give their time and to Young Life staff who give themselves to this most challenging vocation — managing a mission community of adult volunteers who reach out to kids in authentic friendship so they can hear the Good News.”

The Story of Bob & Ramona

By Leslie Strader

Bob Farrell has had two great passions in his life: ice cream and kids. From the first was born Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor Restaurants in 1963, a well-known chain with 130 locations across 26 states. This business helped him find success with the second: countless teenagers have been reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the ministry of Young Life and the faithful support of people like Bob and his wife, Ramona, and others throughout the world.

Bob and Ramona first heard about Young Life in 1972 when their third daughter, Colleen, began attending a new high school just outside Portland, Ore., where they had recently moved.

She would come home feeling lonely because she didn’t know anyone. Then she became involved with Young Life and Bob and Ramona helped out with their activities when needed. Then they were invited to be adult guests at Malibu, a Young Life camp in British Columbia, Canada.

Bob recalls his first Young Life experience while at the camp with fresh emotion, as if it were yesterday: “I was struck,” he said. “I’d never seen kids have so much fun and yet learning about Jesus Christ. I couldn’t help thinking, if only my high school could have had Young Life. My father died when I was 5. I was in an orphanage for five years. ​ When my mother married again I went to a new high school and got in with the wrong crowd and had no proper direction.”

The Farrells' relationship with Young Life grew from Malibu. Bob served in direct ministry with kids and, later, on committees and at the National Board level, raising money for camp development and scholarships.

When it was time to look at planning their estate, Steve Atkinson, a development director for Young Life, played an invaluable role in guiding the Farrells through the process of setting up a trust through the Young Life Foundation. Because of this trust, Bob and Ramona will continue to support the mission for years to come.

“The trust just made a whole lot of sense to me,” Bob said. “I’m able to have a good retirement plan and yet get my money going where I want it and be sure kids go to camp.”

Ramona added, “We are so pleased that we can contribute to kids being able to hear about Jesus Christ and His love for them through Young Life and also to know that our retirement needs will be taken care of.”

But for now, the couple spends their time sharing the mission and message of Young Life and encouraging others to make an eternal impact that will last for generations.

“I always suggest to anybody involved in Young Life to give to the ministry,” Bob said. “I don’t care how much money you have, you should look for a way to give so the work will continue after you’re gone.

“Young Life was the crowning of what I really needed. I don’t know of any other organization that reaches kids better than Young Life. I believe in Young Life; kids are a part of Young Life, and that’s where my heart is — with kids.”

The Story of Boone & Peggy

By Leslie Strader

Healthcare was Boone Powell’s business for 40 years. Today, Boone and Peggy Powell have shifted their focus from caring for the body to caring for the soul, giving generously of their time and resources to the ministry of Young Life.

Boone Powell spent four decades successfully overseeing hospitals and medical centers — 21 of those years in Dallas, Texas, with Baylor Healthcare System. While Peggy says she “married into” the mission when she met Boone, his relationship with Young Life goes back to 1952, when as a young man, he heard Young Life founder Jim Rayburn speak at Frontier Ranch. Throughout their years of public service together, including direct Young Life ministry, Boone and Peggy have also faithfully contributed financially to the work they both believe in.

“I’m not sure there’s any initiative in the country that impacts kids more significantly than Young Life,” Boone said. “If you have an interest in kids at all, Young Life provides you an opportunity to support an effective ministry. Young Life has consistently stayed with the original purpose Jim Rayburn believed in: share Christ with kids. We believe in that mission; therefore, we want to invest in it.”

Peggy believes Young Life reaches teenagers at a crucial time in life and wants to help the ministry continue to connect with them.

“Surveys tell us that percentage-wise very few people come to Christ after age 18,” Peggy said. “We want to be faithful to reach this generation of teens for Christ — and the next generation and the next and the next. There are still multitudes of kids all over the world who haven’t heard the good news, so we are eager to keep the mission strong. First, we pray fervently; then, we give joyfully.”

The Powells have a fund set up through the Young Life Foundation that will provide camp scholarships every year. They also have arranged to distribute part of their resources to Young Life through their estate planning.

Boone explained, “The last great act of stewardship is your will and estate planning. One needs to be careful about where funds are committed. We feel comfortable with the planning we’ve done through Young Life. We are confident that our investment will reach more kids for Christ.”

The Powells are thankful their example has helped “pass the torch” to their children and grandchildren. Both generations are involved in serving and giving to Young Life. For instance, their 13-year-old grandson plays guitar in a club every week with his dad, who is also a committee chair.

Boone and Peggy often have Young Life staff events in their home; they host a week each summer for adult guests at a camp property, and Peggy serves on summer work crew. The Powells have also enjoyed visiting with Young Life staff internationally in such places as Stockholm, Manila, England and Tanzania.

“We are still very involved — why would we want to miss all the fun?” Peggy said. “We see this as an investment in eternity. Through Young Life, we get to sit in the front row and watch God bring kids into the kingdom. It’s wonderful.”​

Young Life is a mission devoted to introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.

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