My Adoption Advocacy ‘Ah-Ha’ Moment…I first knew I was going to become an adoption advocate when I realized that when I said the word "Adoption," many people weren’t seeing or thinking of it the same way I did. Changing the culture’s view of adoption was where I would focus my efforts.
There is a new world of adoption out there. It is no longer something to be hushed up and pushed into the closet. It is to be celebrated and embraced. Birthfamilies should be proud of their choice to place and make such a selfless, brave, and loving decision. Birthmom’s shouldn’t have to go far away and carry this secret in shame. We are all in this together. Couples hoping to adopt and birthfamilies need to come together. As an adoptive mom, I am nothing without my son’s birthparents. Let’s celebrate together!
A walk is born…
In trying to think of how I was going to bring adoption advocacy to my life and community, I thought of other worthy causes and what they had done to bring light to their arena. Many had a large celebration of some sort to raise awareness in the community and were in an open setting. I learned about National Adoption Awareness Month and wondered what Utah did to celebrate. It seemed some agencies did their own little thing, but there wasn’t really anything that all could attend to celebrate adoption as a whole and out in the open for all to see (media too!). Remember, my goal was to raise awareness of the option of adoption and help people understand that adoption isn’t what it used to be.
After much thinking and studying, I jumped on the "Walk" bandwagon and figured it was something I could do with a couple other brainstormers on board. And thus, an adoption walk was born. I decided to start one in November (not the best time for an outdoor event in Utah) as part of National Adoption Month. We have had great success with it and just had our 7th Annual Adoption Walk with Me, even in heavy snow.
Most foundations or organizations have assigned a color to their cause. I thought of orange. It's such a happy, warm, bright color. And bonus: it comes from yellow and red coming together - like hearts of adoption coming together.
Do you have what it takes?
To pull off something like this, you have to be dedicated and passionate about the event and its purpose. I didn’t want just any sort of event. Attendees and onlookers can tell if you have the fire for the event and what you are doing. You can’t lead a gang into something like this without passion or drive or you won’t get any bite. I wanted it to grow and to last - not be some fly-by-night event.
Since I was the one spearheading the whole thing I had to organize myself and my timeline. I was aiming for cheap/free so had to rely on donations. That would take even more time, but felt I could do it. I am a pushy broad and found some others that were passionate about adoption that I was able to guilt into helping me the first year. We got together a couple times to brainstorm ideas. Talking about time involved is tricky. It can take a lot of time or little time. It just depends what you want out of your event. Planning can help a lot. Even if you are a busy person, if you take things in bite sized chunks you can still do something big. Delegating is a wonderful thing, too. Just make sure you follow up!
I started by coming up with a theme, an event color, and a logo. Having a foundation like that helped us move from there. We had to have a goal/ dream/ reason for doing this. Then whenever we had a question we could always look back at our ultimate goal. Breaking up the event into categories helped organize it better. We assign someone to be over food, donations, ‘Game Day’ organizer, and Volunteers.
After the first event we learned a lot and were able to tailor things to make it even better the next year. Each year it has improved and grown but it always needs someone over the whole thing to be able to delegate items to be done. There is no way to do it completely on my own. And really, it is far better as others have added their flair to it all and taken it to places I had only dreamed. So you need time, dedicated/ passionate people that can follow through, and a vision.
We started small and I didn’t know how it would go. Of course I dreamed it would grow to be like a Breast Cancer walk with a bajillion people in attendance, pink everywhere (orange in this case), energy in the air, and a feeling of togetherness. I envisioned donations galore from local merchants and radio and news stations from the area to cover the event. I dreamed of birth families, adoptees, adoption professionals, couples hoping to adopt, and adoptive families all together, holding hands, hugging, smiling, and cheering.
The first Adoption Walk With Me had about 150 in attendance on a nice, cool fall morning. It was November 2006 at a central park in our community. We found some food vendors that would be willing to donate food, and some merchants that donated gift cards and such. It has taken us a few years to get the reservation system down for the park and small but important details ironed out.
Each year it has grown and, of course, depending on the weather that year each event has had a theme of its own. It has been nice to have a few years under our belts as some things now are set in stone of order to be done and contact info, etc. Yet still enough room for new things to happen. We have now secured funding for the walk and hope to still keep it a free event for the public yet provide a simple but powerful celebration for all. It has become an annual tradition and part of our community’s vocabulary of November events.
Brace for impact!
Each year we have heard of wonderful stories that have come from holding the adoption walk. One year, one of our walk committee members was able to get on the morning news for the day and talk about the event. Someone who had placed a child for adoption years ago was watching, and decided to come down and participate. She has now come every year since.
Our birthparent attendees have grown the most with birthmother support groups attending together and even birth grandparents in tow, too! I love seeing adoption ‘teams’ form where everyone comes in team shirts or matching tutu’s or mustaches, some coming in full orange (our walk color), and even coloring the fur of their dog to match! I love seeing the walk become personalized beyond what we have provided. Some birth families meet up with their adoptive families and go to lunch after or just gather at the walk. It is always a great time even without the raffle of prizes.
All I ever want to come out of the walk is goodness. My aim is to help change the social view of adoption - that adoption isn’t what you hear or see on the news with shame and grief. It isn’t the older generation’s world of adoption. We are here to help, we are here to grow with, we are here to celebrate. There is hope!
Having the media attend our event has been a continued effort to get the word out farther than the physical attendance of our participants. We invite all we can think of: our mayor, any local celebrities, newspapers and television news teams. We've even invited local radio come and have a satellite at our event. I enjoy including merchants and local businesses to donate to our event as it also raises their awareness of the cause and solidifies us as an important cause in the community. So far, we have never had any negative attendees or media coverage and hope we never will. Finding someone in PR to help us navigate helps a lot.
We use social media to advertise our event before and after by creating an event page on Facebook, a blog/website, and Twitter account. We make a flier (with pertinent links included) and email it out to our adoption contacts to get the word out. We have them pass it around too. The fliers get sent to all adoption agencies in our area. After the event, pictures are posted on our blog/website and Facebook page, and we invite attendees to submit theirs as well.
I could go on and on about the ins and outs of the whole walk world… but I won’t. Feel free to contact me via the blog or on Facebook (you can see tons more great event photos there) and I’ll send you all I have created for our event. I’d love to share! Dream a dream and make it happen! You can only go up from there! It would be amazing to see a big adoption event become a standard in every community.
- Alison Lowe
United For Adoption Board Member
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