At age 20, Brittney, who asked not to be identified, had a pretty good grasp on her future. She wanted to go to college, build a career and make some kind of difference with her life. Raising a child as a single mother was the furthest thought from her mind.
Yet Brittney found herself dealing with the realities of an unplanned pregnancy. She struggled to make sense of something she thought could never happen to her. And she was overwhelmed with decisions she was too young to make.
But Brittney was lucky. She knew about New Generations Pregnancy & Family Resource Center in Brooksville from a relative, and over time there had been some discussion on the topic.
Facing a storm of emotional turmoil, Brittney turned to the center for help.
"It was the first place I went when I found out I was pregnant," Brittney said. "I knew I wanted counseling. And I wanted to know what my options were."
Having adequate resources when a mother is facing an unplanned pregnancy is fundamental to making clear and objective decisions. That notion, in fact, was a driving force behind the Choose Life License Plate campaign that helps fund centers such as New Generations to assist mothers who choose adoption.
Drive along any Florida highway and your likelihood of spotting a Choose Life license plate on the back of a vehicle is one in 100. That is because more than 430,000 Choose Life license plates have been sold or renewed since its inauguration in 2000.
While the numbers are massive, the journey to get to this point was a fight. And those who chose to lead the battle never backed down.
Randy Harris, director/president/founder of the Choose Life License Plate campaign, is proud of how far the process has come. Back in 1994, when the idea first came to him, it was nothing more than a vision.
Harris explained how the idea had come to him as he pulled out of his office building one afternoon.
"I spotted a license tag promoting the Florida Panther," he remembered. Harris was a Marion County Commissioner at the time and actively involved in the Crisis Pregnancy Clinic. He wondered if that same concept could be applied to pregnant women in crisis.
He knew that a major factor in not choosing adoption as a solution to an unplanned pregnancy was money.
"Many women don't want abortions," Harris said. But the financial burden of carrying the pregnancy to term may be unrealistic since many are already struggling with financial roadblocks.
"There were lots of people at the time trying to help," he explained. "But what (these women) needed was financial assistance to help with their rent, food, clothing, shelter … all that kind of stuff. I thought it would be great if we could raise funds to assist these women."
Harris is largely responsible for the license tag, leading the fight from its inception. He wrote a resolution, based on a vivid dream he'd had one night.
"I sat in my home office with a legal pad and wrote it down at 2 a.m.," he said.
Harris took the resolution to the county commissioners' office.
"I told them I was going to propose to the Legislature that we create a Choose Life license plate and that I would like the board to consider passing this resolution in support of that effort," he said.
The Marion County commissioners voted to support the resolution.
"We sent it to all the other 66 counties in the state asking if they wanted to support it," Harris continued. "Some did and some didn't. But that's what started the whole process."
They won the first battle, but the war had just begun.
Harris learned from Tallahassee that they needed 10,000 signatures statewide showing there was intent to purchase the plate and $30,000 to meet the application fees.
"And we needed money to market the plate," Harris added. "At that time there was a threshold. If you didn't sell 8,000 plates in the first five years, they would discontinue it."
Russ Amerling, Choose Life director/secretary, joined the fight after being introduced to Harris by a mutual friend. He and his wife, Jill, volunteered countless hours to the campaign, helping build awareness.
"We were able to sell 8,000 plates in the first five months," Amerling said.
Since it was first introduced into legislation and the subsequent debut of the first Florida tags in August of 2000, 28 states have followed the lead and now offer the tag as an option. Sixteen states have groups working on the plate, two are tied up in legislation and three remain without a Choose Life plate effort under way.
The Choose Life plates are so popular, they consistently rank ninth out of 120 designs. The proceeds from the sale of these tags in Florida support Choose Life Inc.-approved centers in the communities where they are sold.
"Qualified agencies must be life-affirming pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes or nonprofit adoption agencies that council for adoption and are not involved in abortion in any way," Harris said.
Approved facilities must apply each year and receive the funds annually.
"The process has become very streamlined," Harris said, due to a new law that simplified the procedure. "Every agency now applies directly to Choose Life for funding."
Counties that do not have qualified agencies can have their funds distributed within a 100-mile radius.
"Where do women go who don't have an agency within their county?" Harris asked. "That's the rationality behind disbursing funds to adjoining counties."
The money is given to assist women with their financial burdens during their pregnancy. It also helps support counseling before, while and after an adoption is facilitated.
Since becoming available, the Choose Life plates have raised more than $8.6 million in Florida and more than $16.2 million nationally, according to Amerling. These numbers are huge, derived from the sale of each $25 tax-deductible license plate. And they are making a difference.
Stephanie Knight, president of New Generations Pregnancy and Family Resource Center, is a strong advocate for the Choose Life license plates. She remembered being very excited when the plates came out, recognizing the positive impact it would have on the county.
"I called to apply the moment an article appeared in the newspaper," Knight remembered. "It is a blessing for us because it is the only way we can financially help (these women)."
Brittney admitted she knew very little about the process of adoption before she became pregnant. Through counseling, she learned there were several choices available to her that would best fit her situation. She decided on a semi-open adoption where she had contact with her baby for the first year of its life.
"New Generations put me in touch with an adoption agency that facilitated the entire process," she said. Three years later, with a master's degree under her belt and her child in a wonderful home, Brittney knew she had made the right choice.
Without the funds from the Choose Life license plates, Brittney might have taken a different route.
"If I had done the research on my own, I don't think I would have known the best options," she said. "I would not have been set up with all the best resources."
For more information about Choose Life, visit www.choose-life.org. You can help support Choose Life national efforts by purchasing some of its products.