HOOPER -- Nine years ago, Marisa McPeck-Stringham read "A Child Called It" by Dave Pelzer and knew she had to do something with her life to help people.
McPeck-Stringham, 32, also knew it wasn't going to be easy. The helping highlight of her career as assistant manager at Payless Shoes was getting the right pair of shoes to a customer who needed them for an upcoming wedding.
Plus, McPeck-Stringham had a new baby.
"I felt like my calling was to help make people's lives better. I wanted my whole job to be to help people, not just as a fluke. I went back to Weber State and took my first social work class. I loved it," she said.
McPeck-Stringham dropped out of school after the birth of her second child, but a Weber State University billboard that said "finish what you started" beckoned to her.
"It was good for (my kids) to see that just because you're a parent doesn't mean you're not working on yourself," she said.
She graduated in 2007 and got an internship with LDS Family Services in Ogden. That turned into a permanent job as a case worker for women facing a crisis pregnancy and for infertile couples hoping to adopt.
Despite perceptions that the agency pushes for adoptions, McPeck-Stringham said her job is to inform expectant mothers of their options and support whatever decision they make.
"We respect the client's right to be a single parent or get married," she said.
She offers premarital counseling to those who decide to marry and informs those who choose to be a single parent about community resources.
"It's hard to be a single parent. Eight out of 10 teen moms will never set foot in a college. I tell them to get their education. They might have to sacrifice for a while, but schooling is so important," she said.
"The outcome is a lot better when they are educated about their choices. It will be better if you put work into it instead of not seeking help. It's free and we help with whatever choice they're making. If they choose to adopt, we never do the picking. They pick."
McPeck-Stringham has helped facilitate about 25 adoptions so far.
"Infertility rates are rising. We give a couple a chance that wouldn't have a chance otherwise," she said.
McPeck-Stringham makes hospital visits, goes to court, makes sure all of the placement and relinquishment paperwork is in order and helps set the parameters for open adoptions.
She also makes house visits to adoptive parents for six months after an adoption has taken place. These visits have been some of the most rewarding experiences of her career.
She particularly remembers a neglected toddler who she helped place in a new home.
"When we first saw him, he was standoffish. He didn't smile. He just sat and played with toys. Within two months, that boy was just thrilled. He was joy personified. He was playing with (his) sisters and calling the parents mom and dad. There was that much difference within two months," she said.
She also enjoys seeing birth parents make something of their lives.
"I love seeing the birth fathers and every expectant mother have greater self worth. When they first come in, I see scared young women making the hardest decision of their life," she said.
"They gain self-esteem and after they have been placed, they have wonderful lives. Many of them get their education or get married to wonderful men. I see how good their lives are after they've left the program. My job is rewarding on a daily basis."