Amid the pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony, a young woman takes off her cap and looks at a picture of a little girl.
"When I found out I was pregnant and marriage wasn't an option, I knew the best thing for my baby would be the hardest thing for me," says the young woman. "But she needed a mom and a dad because the most precious gift you can give someone you love . . . is a brighter future."
The television commercial entitled "Graduation" will begin airing in Utah and as a public service announcement in other areas across the United States April 2.
The commercial, produced by Bonneville Communications and LDS Family Services, is part of a campaign intended to heighten the awareness of LDS Family Services and adoption, keep the institution of adoption healthy and help Church members know of the services the agency offers, said commissioner Fred Riley. Other ads for radio and television will also air this summer.
The campaign follows successful efforts last summer, during which public service announcements were sent out in July, the same month commercials aired in Utah.
The announcements aired nationwide on television and cable more than 11,000 times and were viewed a total of 35 million times. The radio spots had more than 50,000 airings and were heard 169 million times — a dramatic indication of the nationwide support for the campaign.
Brother Riley said television and radio stations responded positively to the campaign, noting that the topic of pregnancy out-of-wedlock needs addressing.
He added that in Utah, where the objective of the spots was to reach a large LDS audience, the agency's message was also positively received. One LDS woman, for example, called the agency for assistance after seeing a commercial. Previously, she was unaware the Church sponsors such a service.
Brother Riley said that many Church members don't know that LDS Family Services is available to help them.
"When a young woman becomes pregnant and is not married she and the father need to consider the best interests of the child," he added. "Many members are unaware of the First Presidency's counsel that, 'When the probability of a successful marriage is unlikely, unwed parents should be encouraged to place the child for adoption.' "
But even if unwed parents choose to not place their children, he said, the agency is willing to provide all LDS women and men facing this problem with counseling and support.
"Unwed parents are encouraged to seek the help of their bishops, who may enlist help from the Relief Society organization to provide support," Brother Riley said. "The inspired counsel of Church leaders is an important element of the many decisions that need to be addressed in these circumstances. While unwed parents are frequently referred by their bishops to LDS Family services, they may also contact the agency directly for service."
He added, "Our real interest is to encourage more unwed parents to come to us. . . . If they come to us, at least we can help them look realistically at their options."
One public service announcement is specifically geared to that purpose. In it a pregnant young woman searches for help. "What I need is a place that will accept me, and not judge me," she says. "I need a place that will understand me, and not lecture me. I need a place that will listen to me, not pressure me. . . . I need someone I can trust."
Brother Riley added that he hopes the ad campaign will also help promote adoption as a positive option among a non-LDS audience. The number of babies born out of wedlock that are placed for adoption in the United States has steadily declined from 20 percent before 1973 to an all-time low of 2 percent in 1998, he said. "One of our concerns is that fewer and fewer young women are considering the option of placing their children," he said. "The founding principle in this decision is what is in the best interest of the child. Placing the child for adoption is a positive option for the baby, birth mother, and adoptive couple."
Curt Dahl, the writer and creative director of the radio and television commercials, said he wants to reach the huge percentage of young women outside and inside the Church who don't know much about adoption or LDS Family Services.
An adoptive parent himself, Brother Dahl called adoption a win/win situation. "It blesses the life of the child. It blesses the lives of the couple," he said, noting that the baby can become part of an eternal family.
Based on experience in working with birth mothers, LDS Family Services adopted the phrase, "I am not giving my baby up, I am giving my baby more," and began promoting it in their public service announcements and advertisement campaign. Brother Dahl said the phrase resonates well with birth parents, who believe adoption is the best thing for their children.
One of the ads shows a young woman looking at pictures of her child on his first birthday. His adoptive parents told the young woman that the child loves baseball and sent a picture of the teddy bear she gave him. "But I picked out his best gift about a year ago," she says, "when I gave him a loving mom and a dad."
The ad's message takes Brother Dahl back to his own experience as he reflects on his daughter's birth mother. He said it brings to mind another message reflected in the ad campaign: "Adoption — it's about love."
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