Episode 7: Philanthropist Sherie Schoch, Loving Local Teens

In this episode, I talk with Sherie Schoch, committee member and team leader of her local Young Life chapter. Sherie has served 17 years in different capacities ranging from finance to an annual fundraising banquet, and leading youth camps and activities. Young Life works to show teenagers that they are loved and that they matter. They provide “good clean fun” with “no cliques” and leaders can be reached any time of day, “even at 2 a.m.” Young Life reaches teenagers all over the world the message that they are loved, valuable, and their life matters to God. She, along with other Young Life staff and volunteers, share the love of Jesus to teens right where they are.

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Guest Info

Sherie grew up in the quaint Victorian town of Milford, PA. She and her husband Jeff raised their sons across the river in Rio, NY.  They currently own and operate Yetter Insurance Agency in Milford. When her sons were very young, she became involved with volunteering with the local chapter of Young Life – Young Life Tri States. Young Life is an international non-denominational youth organization. They believe that every teen deserves to hear about a God who loves them. Sherie was on the local adult committee in various positions over the years – secretary, chair, and now vice chair/banquet chair/ and finance chair. The committee is comprised of a group of local adults who come behind an area director and volunteer leaders to raise funds and awareness of the local area. In September of 2019, Sherie also joined the volunteer leader at the local Port Jervis High School – developing relationships with teens, going where they are, and telling them about Jesus. She has been volunteering with Young Life now for 17 years.

Show Notes

For more information about Young Life, click here.


JK: Welcome to the You Are A Philanthropist podcast. This is Episode 7, and today we’re talking with Sherry Schoch, owner of Yetter Insurance. She’s a volunteer with Young Life Tri-States. And today we’re going to hear about what she does for them and how much she loves volunteering.

JK: Hi, Sherie. Welcome to the show.

SS: Good morning, Jenn. It’s good to hear from you.

JK: So I understand you’re involved with Young Life, and I’m not quite familiar with that nonprofit. Can you tell me more about it?

SS: Young Life is a nondenominational international organization that works with teenagers. Our goal is to let every teenager hear about the God that loves them.

JK: Great. And so you mentioned their international. How many countries are they in?
SS: At last count, I think it was the high 90s, like 96, 97, but it’s growing.
JK: And so what does that look like? Do they go into the schools, or do they have their own facilities?

SS: So we have a couple of different ways that this works. So at my level, I work with a local chapter. So we work with the local high schools. Some high schools allow us to come on campus. Some do not. Now with COVID, we are not allowed on campus because they’re not letting volunteers on our local campus. But we go in there or we go to a local coffee shop and have coffee with teens. And we develop relationships with them because they need to know that we care before we can tell them about God. So we let them know that we care about them, what’s going on in their life, the struggles, the good times, the best times. We talk to them, “Hey, what was the best thing to happen this week? What was the worst thing that happened this week?” They need to know that there are people in their life that care about who they are, so we develop that relationship. Pre-COVID, we would also do– once a week we would do a club, just a night of organized chaos. We would get together and we would have the kids. We would do some silly games. All of our games are around genuine fun. There’s no making fun of someone else. There’s no belittling someone else. There’s just genuine old-fashioned fun. And then at the end of the evening all that high chaos winds down, and we tell them about a 10-minute club talk that tells them about Jesus and who he was. And it’s a short time because many of them don’t go to church so they’re not used to listening to sermons. And over time we’re just developing those relationships, letting them know that there are adults that care for them.

SS: Then we have the opportunity to take them to camp. So Young Life is also a camping ministry. We have about– I don’t remember the count. I think it’s 20-some camps around the country. So fortunate for us, one of our camps is only 15 minutes from my house. It’s a Young Life Lake Champion. And camp is a week of their summer where they get to go and have fun. They unplug from their devices. They don’t get their cell phones. They don’t get their iPods, iPads, none of that. That’s all handed over. And when they first hear that, they go into shocked panic, like, “You’re taking my world all the way from me. But the interesting thing is that as time goes through that, we have so much fun that they forget about it. They’re just having a genuine good time. At camping, they can do the boat rides with the tubing. There’s a huge pool complex that’s new. They can do all kinds of fun things. There’s a zipline. There’s a ropes course, just having the time of their life the whole week. And every evening, we have a small club talk. So we sing. And sometimes, the songs are high-energy songs. We’ll Sing Brown Eyed Girl or something like that. And you’ve got a room of 5– teenagers singing at the top of the lungs, just having a great time. It’s so much fun to watch. They have food like you would not believe. This is not your old typical Christian camp food that was really dry and yucky. This is like resort-quality food all week. And some of these kids have never had food like this in their lives. They’re staying in these luxury cabins that they have no idea. They’ve never stayed in anything like this before. And the whole week, everything is wrapped around the center fact that we love you. We love Jesus. We want you to hear more about each other. And so, that’s how we work.

JK: That’s amazing. It does sound like good old-fashioned fun like I used to have when there was no cell phones yet [laughter]. And so, how do people hear about Young Life? Is it student-led as well? Is it only volunteer-led?

SS: So, in general, you have a staff person at the local level. Now, our staff person had gone into a different position. So we’re currently in the prospect of hiring for a staff position. But you also have a committee. So I serve on the committee. The committee is a bunch of local adults who have a passion for teenagers and want to help raise the funds, raise the awareness of Young Life in the background. Your staff person works with the committee on that. The staff person also trains our local volunteer leaders. I’m also a volunteer leader because I want teens to know about Jesus. So, in 2019, my youngest graduated high school because I said I would not get involved as a volunteer leader until they were out of high school. He graduated in June. I was on volunteer leader by September. And so, we raise awareness from the committee mostly. So pre-COVID, we would do banquets every year. We would do golf tournaments, mulch fundraisers. Now, some of that looks different. We’re looking into how to do a banquet in a new type of era. So we’re looking at doing the banquet called Banquet in a Bag, where we get stuff together about Young Life, tri-states, and we can present that to different people. Just a way to keep connecting with our donor base and for whom we’re continually talking to. They are people who are praying for us and who are putting their money or their mouth, I guess you could say, saying, “Hey, we care about teens as well. We can’t do specifically what you’re doing on committee or volunteer leader, but we can give you a little bit of money each month to help you do that.” So that’s how we raise awareness.

JK: That’s great. That’s right up my alley, Sheri, since I’m a fundraiser. So I love all that stuff, but I know it can feel overwhelming and daunting. And a lot of work goes into fundraising, so.

SS: Yes, it does.

JK: You’ve had to be very flexible this year with the new guidelines, so I can imagine that fundraising has gotten even harder this year.

SS: It has gotten harder. We’ve tried to be very communicative with our donor base and sending out newsletters, letting them know what’s going on. In the past, we loved doing our banquet. I’ve been the banquet chair forever, and they are a lot of work to put on, but they are a lot of fun because this is something that we love and we’re passionate about, and we love to show other people what we’re doing and getting them there. And we’ll do some of the fun games and skits with the adults, and it’s hilarious to watch the adults get up there doing these games and getting them involved and saying, “Hey, this is kind of cool, what you’re doing with the teenagers.” “Yeah, it is. So how would you like to help support us?” That’s how we do it.

JK: So you mentioned Young Life is non-denominational. Do you have multiple churches of different faiths, backgrounds that you partner with for Young Life?

SS: That’s correct. So we consider ourselves what you call para-church ministry, meaning we come alongside of the churches. So we have different denominations in our tri-state area that help support Young Life Tri-states. I know at the corporate level of Young Life, they have a whole group that also works in conjunction with the Catholic Church as well. And in fact, we have a local Catholic deacon that has actually met with the pope in order to let him know what they were doing with teenagers. And the pope said, “Let’s keep doing this because we don’t want to lose the next generation. The next generation is important. They matter. Let’s let them know this.” So it’s pretty neat to see that aspect.

JK: That’s terrific. We’ve had other guests on the show that have talked about how God’s brotherly love has been an example for them for getting involved with philanthropy. And then we had another guest, MJ Tierney, talk about her Catholic faith and the importance of service that she’s learned through her faith. And I’m curious, what aspect of Christ’s life do you focus on when sharing to people about the importance of learning from Jesus?

SS: So I like to read about how Jesus would sit with the tax collectors and the sinners. So these were people who were not going to darken the temple because they were not allowed. They were unclean. They were not allowed to come into the temple because of their lifestyle. So Jesus said, “Well, then I’m going to come to you.” And that whole aspect through the Gospels, I mean, that’s how you and I learned about Jesus because He went from the Jewish community. And the ministry went into the Gentiles, which is you and I. And because He was willing to step outside of the temple and go to where the people were, so I think that’s really important that we get out of our little comfort zones. Sitting in our little pew on Sunday is important. Yes, absolutely important, but it’s also important to carry that mentality when you leave the door, when you’re talking to somebody in your business or you’re going different places. You go and you are representing Jesus every place you go, so represent Him well.

JK: So it really has to do with Jesus’s unconditional love that everybody matters, and that Jesus enjoys reaching out to all different types of people.

SS: That’s correct. And I don’t remember if it was something my father actually said or just watching the way my parents lived, but it was along the lines of we were not saved to sit, we were saved to serve. And I don’t know if that exact phrase came, but that was just a mentality. I mean, my parents have been serving people. I mean, our whole life we’ve seen them do that through the church. My dad was actually one of the founding members of the local chapter of Young Life, Young Life Tri States. So it’s a lifestyle. It’s not just something you do every once in a while. It’s a lifestyle choice to serve.

JK: We’ve heard from a lot of guests, previously, about how their childhood affected their belief in the importance of service. And it sounds like that’s been the same for you as well.

SS: That’s correct. Yeah.
JK: And so how many years have you been involved with Young Life, in particular?

SS: So I think I’m getting into my 17th year with Young Life. So I’ve been on the committee in various positions. I was the committee chair for about eight years. When my oldest went into a senior year in high school, I stepped back from the chair position because he needed a little more time. But I’m currently the vice chair, the finance chair, and the banquet chair, and I’m still a volunteer leader. And I don’t see my stopping doing that until I get called home, because I think it’s important.

JK: That’s terrific. And so it sounds like you use a variety of the skills that you’ve been given in your life to to help Young Life, such as finance, you mentioned. That’s not an easy position to be in.

SS: It’s not, but somebody that I know, who you know as well, taught me about the love of numbers and how things work. In fact, your father taught me about Excel spreadsheets, and I utilize that in order to help my committee see where we’re going. I always tell them, on the committee meeting night, okay guys, this is the most fun you’re going to have all evening. Look at all these pretty numbers. And so some of the training I’ve had, through different positions, has helped me do that.

JK: Yeah, I think you’re talking to our guests from a couple episodes ago, John Fisher, who’s my father, and he was talking about his love for numbers. So it means a lot to me that my dad was able to help support you and your love of numbers and the way that you’ve learned to use that skill for Young Life. I want to just take a commercial break. I want to share with my listeners about something that I did so that they can be inspired to be volunteers and donors in their communities to both individuals and non-profits. So we’ll be right back.

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JK: We’re back. I want to thank you again for being here today. We’re talking with Sherry Schoch. She’s a volunteer with Young Life, Tri States. You mentioned a little bit about your– kind of three areas that you’ve been involved with Young Life. And it sounds like, after 17 years of service, you’ve really committed, and you said you’re going to be doing this for the rest of your life. I’m really impressed by that, for your deep commitment to the mission and to Young Life. And I’m curious about how many hours, would you say, a week you use of your time to give back to Young Life?

SS: Well, it kind of varies. pre-COVID, with volunteer leading, we were spending around, probably, eight hours a week with a volunteer leader position. Going to school events, showing up for the kids, and stuff like that. A lot of that now is done through texting and Facebook messaging and stuff like that because we couldn’t meet with them in person. My committee meeting, we have once a month. That’s a couple hours. And then I’m doing the finance stuff on the side. So that’s another couple hours a month that we’re working on that. It is very different now than it used to be when we would do the banquet’s. The banquet would easily have 100 plus hours put into the work on that because I believe in doing everything well. Because when I’m doing things, I’m not doing it for just people, I’m doing it as unto God, and so I believe in doing things well. So every time you have a fundraiser that bumps up the amount of time you’re spending. January and February are traditionally pretty slow times. Club is not going on. And club can’t go on right now because of COVID. But in a normal year, club is not going on January and February because we usually get hit with snow, so everything always gets canceled. But other than that, we’re making sure every week that all our leaders had what was necessary. We were doing meals for the kids because one of the great ways to get kids to sit around and just talk is to put some food in front of them. So for a long time, for years, every Thursday night, we were feeding teenagers, sometimes 20, sometimes 30. We had a couple of times where we had barbecues of almost 100 teenagers. So it just depends on the season that we’re in and what kind of activities are going on at that time.

JK: So is there any cost to the students for camp or for the meals?

SS: So when we did the meals locally, no. We did a kind of like a meal train, and different adults in the community would provide food. When you go to camp, yes, camp does cost money. We do fundraisers to help them raise that money. The money includes the camp for the week, which is three really excellent meals a day, transportation to get to the camp. Lake Champion is near us in Glen Spey, New York. We have Young Life Saranac, which is up in the Adirondacks. We’ve gone there. We try to keep things where you can get to in a day, to the camps that you can get to in a day. So we’re not going to go to the camps in Florida. But we did one year ago to the camp in Virginia, which is Rockbridge. So there is a camp cost, and we try to raise funds. But we try to emphasize to the kids that they shouldn’t let the money be the reason that they say no. And if there’s a kid that needs to get to camp, that’s when the finance chair starts talking to local adults. I’ve got a kid who just– they don’t have the money. How can you help us get him to camp? And the local community steps up every time.

JK: That’s great. And when I was involved in youth group, we did a lot of service opportunities as well. And I’m curious, what are some of the outcomes of doing Young Life for the children? Do they stay out of trouble? Do they do service opportunities?

SS: So one of the cool aspects is just that having an adult with whom they can communicate. A lot of the kids in this area have parents who had been going into the city to work. So they had no adult that was really pouring into their life. And that makes a difference to them. Something big is going on. They can hop on the phone at any time and talk to a volunteer leader. If it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, then it’s 2 o’clock in the morning. It doesn’t matter. If a kid needs you, you show up.

JK: Wow, that’s incredible. I had no idea that volunteers were showing up at 2:00 in the morning for children. I’m curious, are you able to measure the outcomes of what Young Life has done, or if it’s a personal relationship that kind of affects them for the rest of their life?

SS: I think there’s a combination of both. There are different metrics that we send to Young Life headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. But there are other metrics. For instance, I know a young man who is currently on staff with Young Life in Michigan at their camp out there, which is Timberwolf. And he’s on staff there because when he was in high school, there was a Young Life leader that said, “You matter. I care.” And kept showing up to his events. His parents weren’t. But his young life leader was showing up to events, showing up to things that mattered to him. And that mattered enough that when he graduated high school and then got some education under his belt, he went back. And he now works full time for Young Life serving other kids, letting them know that they matter because there was somebody that mattered to him– that said that he mattered to them.

JK: And so, it sounds like when you’re talking about the importance of how Jesus would relate to people at all different levels of the spectrum of life, it seems like maybe, at times, society leaves behind the teenagers and doesn’t value them as much as we should. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?

SS: Oh, that’s a very fair assessment. We like to undervalue them and we under appreciate their value to our society. And they’re important. They matter. And they– I mean, even at the church level, there are times that we think of other things as more important than teaching the teenagers. But they’re our future leaders. They’re our future leaders in politics, and business, and the church, and they matter. And they need to learn that they matter, that there’s a value to them. Those who don’t have a value– feel like they’re valued go down some pretty dark roads.

JK: That’s a great point. And especially as a young adult, when peer pressure and involvement of parents and being just kind of self-conscious of who you are, who you’re becoming, it sounds like those ages are really crucial for supporting those years.

SS: That’s correct.

JK: And so, what would you say to our listeners who are either thinking about getting involved in Young Life or are thinking about how they want to give back to society? What would you say to them to inspire them to get involved?

SS: We are not saved to sit. We are saved to serve. If you’re interested in Young Life, you can go to younglife.org and you can look at what the ministry entails. You can search for a local chapter to see if there is Young Life in your local high schools. Our goal is to reach every high school in the country. We have a little ways to go on that, but we are in every state in the country. And we are working hard to just be a presence– a positive presence. So check out the website so you can see if there’s a local chapter for that. But also, get up, get moving.

JK: Awesome. And so, I’m curious, how would a new Young Life chapter start? Does someone contact the headquarters and say, “I’d really like to start one in my public school. Can you help me do that?” How do you get a staff member on board?

SS: So the organization is broken down– I’m in a local area, but above me is the region. So, for instance, and this would include where you live, Jen, or in the greater northeast region. Which geographically covers, except for metro New York and that tri-state area, It covers New York state upstate, where just this little blip of because we’re not really metro, so we belong to that. It covers Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. So you would contact someone in that area. You can start by looking on the web and searching out your local chapter, and they can help point you in the direction you need to go in order to establish it. Once you start looking at that, you start with a committee, you start raising some funds because you have to have some money set up before you can hire a staff person. Because you can’t hire somebody if you have no money to pay them. And then that staff person starts working with their own donors because usually they bring their own. So Young Life staff member is paid by the local area. Now the local area raises their funds, but that staff member also raises some of the funds. So they might have personal donors from the town they grew up in or their parents or stuff like that. They’re bringing some money to the table. Then the local committee is raising money so that we have the money to pay that staff person, workers worth their wages. You can’t call them to do all of this work and not take care of them. The apostle Paul would go into different areas and he would work. He was a tent maker and he would work to support himself while he was ministering to people. So it’s a similar setup.

JK: Terrific. Yeah, that’s so important is fair wages, especially in the non-profit world. I am a big proponent of making sure that non-profits are paying their staff members and employees a fair compensation because it is typically below what the business standards are, unfortunately. And some people don’t see the value in paying staff members of non-profits fairly.

SS: And one of the things that I appreciate about Young Life is when you’re on staff with Young Life, you are given full benefits. And yes, the local area has to help raise the money for that. But that’s part of their salary. We take care of them. They also have a retirement plan that’s part of that salary package that we put together. So you’re not going to be going out and buying a Maserati on that, but you’re going to be able to afford living in the area where you’re working and volunteering and you’re going to have health benefits and you’re going to have retirement so that we’re taking care of you well.

JK: Terrific. And so you mentioned that you spend about eight hours or you were spending eight hours, before COVID, a week. And I’m curious, what’s the minimum involvement you would say that kind of is an entry level volunteer role that someone could do or even donate?

SS: At the donate level, you could spend the time going on the website and entering the payment. Any amount. That’s right. Any amount. I have people who believe in it but don’t have a lot of money. And so they give 10, 15 dollars a month. We have people who this is their passion and they’re giving a significant amount every month to help raise it. So that’s a minimal level. You you’re giving the treasure of your money. If you’re giving the treasure of your time, at the committee level, we meet once a month for two hours and then we need you on board when we’re doing these fundraisers. So depending depending on what position you are on the committee determines the level of time commitment, but we start you off slow and then we’ll work you up to working in some of the chair positions.

JK: I like to say that it’s infectious. Volunteering is a lot of fun and there’s a lot of personal reward in it. Would you agree?

SS: I would agree. Absolutely. We had our committee meeting this past Wednesday evening via Zoom. But one of the neat things is we’re all sitting there on Zoom with better pages of our view up on the screen and we’re spending a good chunk of time in prayer for one another, and I just think that’s so unique that we are spending time involved in the lives of the other committee members as well as getting involved in the lives of the local teenagers. So we have this sense of community with our committee before we’re even going outside the doors to work with teenagers.

JK: Yeah. John Fisher said the same thing on his episode that you make friends when you get involved in your community.

SS: That’s correct. And the neat thing is with having the camp near us, only 15 minutes from us, I know a lot of the camp staff there. And know I know camp staff because they move around. We have friends out in California in Young Life. We have friends in Colorado in Young Life. We’re helping pack up a couple who are moving to a position in Florida. That’s on Saturday. So we’ll have friends now down in Florida as well. So it’s neat to see the sphere of influence and the sense of community that’s really important, but is really missing in today’s day and age of technology.

SS: Sure. And so when the kids get together in a room and you’re singing Brown Eyed Girl and spending a week together with kids their age, I’m sure they’re building those connections with people from outside of their local school as well.

SS: Absolutely. There’s no cliques there. It’s just your Young Life Tri-States. It’s not, “Here’s the athletes and here’s the musicians and here’s this group or that group.” No, you’re all Young Life Tri-States. You’re one community there together singing songs and they’re just enjoying their time.

JK: That’s beautiful. And so do you– is there some way that you’re connected to the international community? Do you have some sort of annual conference online or in-person?

SS: So if you’re on staff with Young Life, they every– I think it’s five years. They, every five years, have an international conference. They rent out Disney. And everybody flies into Disney.

JK: Oh boy, that’s a lot of fun.

SS: I think 2019s when they did that last. And it’s just they have speakers, there’s time to go into the park, and it’s just a unique time for everybody to get together. And then I’m sure at the different levels, the camping ministry, they get together every year before camping season starts. I’m sure that the different international groups do the same.

JK: So let me get this straight. Your party people at heart. Just good old-fashioned party people, huh?

SS: We are. Hey, Jen, someday in heaven, we’re going to have a big old party. There’s a big banquet feast coming, so we are all going to enjoy partying. We’re just practicing for that.

JK: That’s beautiful. I love it. Sherie, is there any final parting words you’d like to say to our listeners about what they need to know about Young Life, what they need to know about volunteering?

SS: Sure. If you want to learn more about Young Life, feel free to check out younglife.org. That’ll allow you to learn about the camping side, your local side, international, and do your research and check all of that information out and then get off of your seat, get moving and let’s see what we can do together.

JK: Beautiful. Sherie, thanks so much for sharing your passion. Thank you for sharing Young Life. I am thrilled to hear about the impact you’re having on teenagers and how important it is, especially today when children are so isolated. And being able to get that phone call in the middle of the night and somebody answering when they’re feeling so alone and desperate and needing that personal connection and love, it’s a beautiful thing what you’re doing. I thank you for your service and I look forward to hearing more over time about Young Life.

SS: Thank you for having me today, Jen.

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