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Young Life group looks to start Valley chapter

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - For Suzie Franson, there's a glaring absence in the Valley.

Teens, she said, have no place to hang out besides church youth groups - and it's not doing secular teens any good.

The North Bend woman, her husband, David and three other couples have been talking about getting a Young Life group started in the Valley so teens ages 12-18 would have somewhere to go to just be themselves.

Young Life is a non-denominational, Christian organization committed to positively impacting the lives of kids through embracing them "where they're at." Small chapters of the national organization have popped up all over the country over the last 60 years. Adult volunteers lead the groups, hosting "club" meetings and other laid back get-togethers every week. Young Life is mainly a place where teens who don't normally attend a church can go with their friends to learn a little about Christ through songs, skits and other activities in a fun, non-preachy setting.

"It can be a really fun place for kids to invite their friends to," said Franson, who noted Young Life is a way to gradually interest teens in going to church. Once they get to that point, a Young Life leader will introduce the teen to a church youth leader and they can choose to start attending a church.

"I think that there are a lot of teens that think the world isn't interested in them as anything but consumers ... Young Life and youth leaders in the Valley are intent on caring about teens because they are people, loving them as they are, not for what they can give or do," said Franson, a member of Mount Si Lutheran Church.

A group of four Valley families from various churches have been meeting for the last six months and presented their vision at the Valley Ministerial Association meeting last month with the goal of making it a joint ministry of the 21 Valley churches. Franson said the group wants "to make youth ministry in the Valley as broad and involving as many churches as possible."

"There's a lot of 'brokenness,'" said Franson, a homemaker. "Problems with alcoholism and drugs and a lot of kids out there are really hurting and searching and what culture gives them is entertainment and shopping. There's a real desire among youth leaders and people building Young Life to reach out to kids, to say they're special and we care about them."

Kelly Harper and her husband Jeff successfully started a Young Life group in Carnation last September. Harper said Young Life doesn't try to compete with churches and that it's more about meeting kids where they are at in their lives rather than being overtly Christian all the time.

"I definitely want to hold to the standards God sets for us, but I also know we live in 2005," said Harper, a first-grade teacher at Carnation Elementary School. "The music we play at club is not necessarily all Christian music, but music they know and feel comfortable with."

Franson said that while there are a fair number of existing options for young families, such as the indoor playground, there's nothing for teens, who are more likely to be pushed away from a place.

"Ya know, it's 'don't skateboard in our parking lots' rather than being pulled into a group," she said. "My sense is that these kids don't have a place to go that's a non-church place. We need something that reaches kids that don't go to a church, something that's about them and relationships with them."

The Fransons and other interested families are hoping to hire someone to build the Young Life ministry. However, they said most of Young Life's success depends on its volunteers.

"What we're hoping to do is build broad community support; find a lot of people who care about teens and believe there needs to be a ministry for them. The more people who want to be involved in touching teens' lives, the better," said Franson.

Harper said spreading the word in the community and finding leaders is the most difficult part of getting a Young Life group started. Volunteer leaders need to know Young Life is more than just a one-night-per-week commitment. It involves calling kids, going to their games or activities at school and building a relationship with them.

* There will be an informational meeting on Young Life from 7-8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at the Mount Si Senior Center, 411 Main Ave. S. in North Bend. The meeting will include dessert and coffee and is open to the public.

If interested in volunteering for Youth Life or supporting it, call Suzie Franson at (425) 222-5099.

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