Stacks Burgers PR Director Scott Valen, left, Young Life Area Director Todd Zern, and Federal Way Chick-fil-A owner Ryan Powell hold bags of chocolate chunk cookies outside of Chick-fil-A in Federal Way. A portion of each cookie sale this month goes toward YoungLives, a ministry group supporting teen mothers. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Stacks Burgers PR Director Scott Valen, left, Young Life Area Director Todd Zern, and Federal Way Chick-fil-A owner Ryan Powell hold bags of chocolate chunk cookies outside of Chick-fil-A in Federal Way. A portion of each cookie sale this month goes toward YoungLives, a ministry group supporting teen mothers. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Calories for Jesus: Federal Way Young Life program helps teen moms

Cookies for a Cause at local Chick-fil-A benefits YoungLives this month.

If you’ve ever needed a reason to buy more cookies, Chick-fil-A and Young Life in Federal Way can give you one.

For the second year, Cookies for a Cause at Chick-fil-A’s Federal Way location allows you to purchase gooey chocolate chunk cookies guilt-free this month to benefit YoungLives. A branch of faith-based Young Life, this program supports teenage mothers and their children by sharing the message of the gospel and developing caring relationships, said Todd Zern, area director for Young Life in Federal Way.

Young Life partners with businesses in the local area including Chick-fil-A, Stacks Burgers, Jimmy Mac’s Roadhouse and MOD Pizza. Last year, Chick-fil-A sold nearly 8,000 cookies during Cookies for a Cause. This year, the goal is to sell 10,000 cookies.

Twenty-five cents of each cookie sold in January is donated to the Federal Way Young Life camp fund to provide teen moms the opportunity to go to Washington Family Ranch summer camp in Antelope, Oregon.

Federal Way Chick-fil-A owner and operator Ryan Powell said it was an easy decision when it came to helping YoungLives and Young Life.

“Young Life is able to do what they do and then take it to a different group that frankly doesn’t have much support,” Powell said. “From everything that surrounds single momhood, I think it’s the most difficult job in the entire world, so the fact that we’re able to come alongside Young Life and YoungLives to help support that, it was a no-brainer.”

Through weekly “club” meetings (also referred to as a party with a purpose of sharing God’s message) and relationship building, Young Life centers on youth and community members.

High school clubs meet Mondays at 7:17 p.m. and some middle school clubs meet Tuesdays at 6:07 p.m.

Why the peculiar timing?

“It’s easier to remember because it’s different,” Zern said with a laugh. “That’s part of the Young Life culture. Instead of telling them 7 o’clock, because everything starts on the half hour in adult world, you’re going to remember 7:17 p.m.”

The Federal Way area serves more than 12,000 kids through a multitude of clubs with the help of about 30 adult volunteer “leaders.”

Federal Way’s Young Life clubs can be found at all of the high schools, most middle schools, and some elementary schools. There’s also clubs on the Truman campus, a YoungLives club for teen mothers, and Capernaum, a Young Life club for kids with disabilities.

“Since the founding, the overall structure and premise of ‘why’ has stayed the same. Maybe the context and ‘how’ has changed, but the overall structure has maintained the same,“ Zern said.

Since its start in 1941, Young Life’s mission is to introduce adolescents to Jesus, while helping them grow in their own faith.

“Some of these kids have heard the gospel before, some of these kids have not,” he said. “Some of these kids have struggles, some of these kids are incredible seasons of joy. We get to be with them in every season, all seasons.”

It’s a “together-with” mentality rather than top-down or bottom-up flow of ideas and power, Zern said.

“We are together, sharing Jesus with these kids and loving these kids together, as opposed to me saying ‘This is what you’re going to do,’” Zern said.

Like any relationship, it takes dedicated care to develop trust between leader and kid.

“Over time as the relationship strengthens, just like any other relationship for that matter. Conversations happen, life happens, and you’re now living life with that kid,” Zern said. “It goes from a mentor role to a leader role to a friendship role.”

Zern said there’s a significant impact on a young person’s life to have a supportive adult who isn’t a typical authority figure.

“As a parent, [Young Life] is an organization that creates another caring adult,” said Scott Valen, public relations director for Stacks Burgers. “There aren’t enough out there, especially in the world we live in.”

Between working parents and varying family structures, Young Life provides the missing piece to many kids’ lives, Valen and Zern agreed.

“When it came time to looking at community partnerships … my goal was to do research in the Federal Way community and see what groups were making an impact,” Valen said. “Young Life has always had a positive influence on our lives.”

Stacks Burgers, and Chick-fil-A, are founded on Christian principles, so partnering with the local faith-based youth organization made perfect sense, Valen said.

“[Zern] actually helped us launch our Takeover program that launched two years ago,” Valen said. Stacks Burgers has been in Federal Way for four years and has hosted about six restaurant takeover nights for Young Life, donating a percentage of all sales to summer camp funds.

“Overall, it’s really about giving, it’s not about just taking. It’s about relationships,” Valen said.

Each takeover brings business, but more importantly new friendships with people in the Federal Way community, Valen said.

“[Ryan Powell and Scott Valen] always ask ‘What else can I do for you?’ and they truly mean it,” Zern said. “It’s just an outpouring of their heart, it’s who they are.”

Check it out

Cookies for a Cause benefitting YoungLives is held all of January at the Federal Way Chick-fil-A, 32025 Pacific Highway S. Stacks Burgers will host a Young Life restaurant takeover in February. For more information, visit the Stacks Burgers Facebook page.

To find out more about Young Life, visit

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