Teen Straight Talk marks 30 years

Mary Duke, executive director of Teen Straight Talk, left, is congratulated by Dodie and Ed Sausman of Brookfield Thursday at the 30th anniversary celebration of Teen Straight Talk, held at Avalon Inn and Resort in Howland. Photo by Bob Coupland

HOWLAND — Mary Duke, executive director of Teen Straight Talk, said 30 years ago she thought she would spend one year sharing the message of the importance of abstinence as a lifestyle choice and of teens making good decisions.

She said she never imagined that in 2018, she would still be speaking and educating children, teens and adults on personal worth and clear decision-making.

Duke, along with her staff and board members of Teen Straight Talk, were honored Thursday for 30 years at a recognition dinner at Avalon Inn and Resort.

Duke launched Teen Straight Talk in 1989 and said her children were part of Teen Straight Talk in the schools where she spoke and on mission trips in which they help others worldwide.

“Truth does not change and that message will always be the same. God has allowed me to stand faithful and do this 30 years,” she said.

Dr. Louise Hayes, a board member, said Duke has done “30 years of wonderful work close to her heart.”

“While Teen Straight Talk may wear Mary down, tax her brain and tires her out, nothing energizes her like it does and gets her to think outside the box,” Hayes said.

She said while Teen Straight Talk may face some opposition and naysayers, the organization has many supportive people and groups in the community.

Crystal Duke, Mary’s daughter, said Teen Straight Talk has been part of her life since she was a child seeing her mother and staff provide resources, support and counseling to the public.

“While Teen Straight Talk may face a difficult sell in mainstream society today, it has offered great programs and support to so many young people for the last 30 years. It has been reaching and teaching young people,” Crystal Duke said.

She said many people have asked her and her brothers what is was like growing up with their mom.

David and Doran Duke, Mary’s sons, said their mom was always active at their schools and on mission trips.

Doran Duke said on a mission trip to South Africa, his mother taught them to be ready for anything and be prepared for everything.

“When she started Teen Straight Talk, my mom always had to make adjustments. For 30 years she has worked tirelessly with her crew and because of that, so many lives have been changed,” Doran Duke.

Pastor Matt Lowe of Journey Christian Church said his mother remembered Duke as a cosmetology teacher at Warren G. Harding High School.

“She made an impact on my mom’s life and later on my mine,” he said.

Teen Straight Talk focuses on personal worth, absolute truth, clear decision making, understanding consequences and accountability for one’s actions and choices. The program was developed by a group of individuals representing a cross-section of the community, united in the common cause of reducing teen pregnancies.

The program expanded to address sexually transmitted diseases and a doctor was added to provide medical and scientific expertise.

Duke has led mission trips to South Africa, including Zimbabwe, and to St. Lucia in the Caribbean, where the Teen Straight Talk abstinence educators witnessed first-hand thousands committed to purity until marriage.

In 1998, the YMCA and American Association of University Women named Duke the “Professional Woman of Trumbull County” in recognition of her contribution to the community.

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