Empowered Empowering

Patti Stoetzner’s introduction to Young Life was unique. Having recently moved to Houston, Texas, with her husband, Tom, and two kids, she met with a friend who was a recruiter for non-profits. She told Stoetzner about two jobs; one, a development director for a grief support organization, the other, a regional development role with Young Life. While she had a background in both counseling and development, the decision was obvious.

“I was totally onboard with counseling and I knew nothing about Young Life. I said, ‘Give me the counseling contact.’”

The friend, however, wasn’t going to let her off that easy. Thinking Stoetzner and Young Life were a match made in heaven, she wouldn’t tell Stoetzner about the counseling job until after she interviewed with Young Life! “So she essentially blackmailed me!” Stoetzner laughed.

Still not convinced for herself, Stoetzner nevertheless interviewed with the mission. Meanwhile, to make sure Young Life was on the up and up, she sent her 16-year-old daughter to spy out the club at her high school. “She came back and said, ‘You’ll love it, Mom; it’s right up your alley. ’”

By the time interviewing was finished, she knew Young Life was where she wanted to be. She came on staff in 2000, at a time when there were no regional development directors in Texas. The Houston Region was just starting the Every Kid Endowment Campaign. She was told the plan had a 10-year, $10 million goal.

“The first thing I did was say, ‘You don’t do campaigns like that. We’re going to knock it down to $5 million in two years.’”

Within two years they raised the endowment. How? “Houston was blessed with very generous supporters,” she said, modestly.

Dreams Coming True

That success was a taste of things to come. Stoetzner moved from development projects in Texas to more missionwide fundraising. Consider just a few of the highlights in her 19-year Young Life résumé:
  • Field Development director for the Southern Division.
  • Oversaw construction and provided content for a Best Practices website, which areas all over the world could use to improve their local fundraising.
  • Assisted with Young Life’s Campership Legacy program, created to help first-time, unreached summer campers get to camp.
  • Trained local committees in the art of fundraising and development.
  • Piloted a training project for adult guest hosts at camp to help them better engage with the guests.
  • Pioneered the Women’s Engagement and Philanthropy program.
“Patti is a very unique leader,” said Eric Scofield, Young Life’s chief development officer. “She effuses ‘we can make this happen.’ We’ve worked together for 20 years and everything is possible. She carries this DNA that I imagine Young Life’s founder, Jim Rayburn, had … and I know Jesus has. Under Patti’s leadership we have seen so much fuel come into the mission which translates into thousands upon thousands of changed and impacted lives. She made it happen!”

Listen to Patti Stoetzner and you’ll hear words like connect, listen, pioneer, train and dream. But she’s also quick to add the insecurities she’s had to fight.

“Sometimes I feel like an imposter, playing a role I don’t think I can do. How in the world am I going to raise $5 million? And without the Lord I am an imposter. I need Him beside me.”

This need for the Lord was put to the ultimate test in 2014.

Dark Days

By Stoetzner’s 13th year on staff, the mission’s leadership knew her abilities well enough to ask her to take on a new challenge: raising funds for Pioneer, Young Life’s new camp in Armenia. She accepted, knowing Tom would soon retire and help her in the challenge. It was during the fall of that year, however, that Tom started suffering from severe depression.

“The depression was chemical in nature,” Stoetzner said. “He tried inpatient and outpatient treatment and fought it for six months.”

Ultimately, Tom succumbed to the depression and took his life in February 2014.

“Tom really tried his hardest,” Stoetzner said. “Just as people die from cancer, people can die from depression.”

At this most devastating and fragile of times, Stoetzner didn’t let go of her lifeline.

“I had to fight to hold onto my faith ... ‘Really, God? Seriously? You’re doing this now? Right when we’re going to build a camp in Armenia and have this retirement together?’”

“The good thing is God didn’t give up on me. Young Life didn’t give up on me either when I felt I shouldn’t be working because I was so disillusioned. I’m thankful for people like Gary Parsons [senior vice president for the Former Soviet Union] who said, ‘You are still the right person for this job. We can handle it. God can handle it.’” A turning point was when I found the Scripture, Psalm 68:5 (NIV): ‘A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.’ This vision of God defending me when I felt so alone was powerful.”

“Patti is amazingly strong,” Scofield said. “I was there when she was experiencing some of her darkest days … and you could still see the glimmer of hope and, ‘it’s going to work,’ even in the storm.”

Over time, as she gradually found her bearings, she also discovered a new opportunity. Through her own grieving process, the Lord laid on her heart the idea of caring for other widows.

“When you’re grieving, friends try their best but often don’t know what to do or say. I was curious how we, as a mission, were taking care of widows involved with our organization. Research revealed we have approximately 4,000 widows among us in Young Life.

“I know our mission isn’t to widows, but this is a powerful chance to learn more; perhaps train our staff and volunteers, offer seminars on the challenges widows face and maybe even provide information to widows on where to go to get help. If we’re all about relationships like we say, we should at least see how we are relating to this group within our Young Life family.”

The Dance Continues

After 19 years on staff, the mother of two and grandmother of three retired on March 1; but her love for the mission will always keep her involved. “Young Life gave me the opportunity to do better. And to get better.

“It’s been five years. Every day you have to say, am I going to be productive today and find the joy, or do what my soul wants me to do, which is nothing?”

Every day, she said, is a journey of edging closer back to the Lord. “We’ll be healing the rest of our lives and learning to live with a disability, which is what you do when you lose somebody you love. The thing I know for sure is you could avoid all this pain if you didn’t love deeply. That’s the tradeoff.

“Not to be goofy but it’s kind of like Garth Brooks’s song … ‘I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.’ Nobody wants to miss the dance with loved ones, the dance with the Lord. You buck up and say, yeah it’s going to hurt, but I’m not going to miss this dance.”

The dance continues for Stoetzner, and she’s happy to be on a journey to greater and deeper authenticity.