Operation Keepsake: Positive abstinence program for teens

ST. GEORGE – The subject of sexual education in public schools can be a touchy one for some parents. In Utah, state law requires the subject be addressed, yet places emphasis on the avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases and stresses abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward. For one St. George mother however, it was not enough.

Suzy Appel’s son came home one afternoon with a parental consent form for the sexual education portion of his freshman teen living class. Curious about what was to be covered, Appel went to the teacher and took a look the curriculum.

Not quite satisfied with the state-approved curriculum, Appel decided something more was needed, particularly when it came to addressing abstinence. After some initial searching, Appel and a friend from Hope Pregnancy Care Center, found just such a program.

That program was Operation Keepsake.

According to its mission statement, Operation Keepsake aims to “challenge young people to develop healthy relationships and strong character so that they may develop to their fullest potential in life.”

Appel presented the Operation Keepsake program to Appel’s son’s class at Snow Canyon Middle School in 2006. Since then, it has been shown in many schools throughout Washington County.

“We’re not in every school, but a majority,” Appel said.

Operation Keepsake itself is not a part of the state curriculum, but is presented to health classes upon request.

Elements covered in Operation Keepsake include:

  • Developing strategies for a healthy self-concept;
  • Identifying ways to enhance mental and emotional health;
  • Developing and maintaining healthy relationships and the risks associated with peer pressure;
  • Analyzing the impact of STDs;
  • Describing the interrelationship of mental, emotional, social and physical health during adolescence;
  • Explaining the processes of conception, prenatal development, birth, and the challenges created by unwanted pregnancies; and
  • Understanding the potential benefits of being sexually abstinent before marriage and maintaining a state of fidelity after marriage.

“The program [reminds the students] why it’s important to delay gratification,” Appel said. “It’s a great message from start to finish.”

Appel said that since its introduction to the area five years ago, reception of Operation Keepsake has been positive.

“We’ve never had a negative response,”  added Shannon Gerber, the director of Hope Pregnancy Care Center.

Joshua Boatright, a health and P.E. teacher at Tuacahn High School, said the program was “absolutely fantastic.”

“It was very interactive,” Boatright said. “The students were very involved.”

The program knew its audience, he added, and said it showed how a student’s lifelong goals could be affected by the consequences of premarital sex.

“The kids already know this stuff,” Appel said. “They just need a plan on how to get there.”

Operation Keepsake, Inc.  started in 1988 and reached 65 students in an Ohio classroom. Today the program reaches thousands out students across the United States.

Locally, Operation Keepsake is partnered with Hope Pregnancy Care Center of St. George, through which it receives financial and administrative support. Individuals who present the material to the students, such as Appel, are trained volunteers.

For more information on Operation Keepsake, contact Hope Pregnancy Care Center of St. George at 435-673-5331, or visit the Operation Keepsake, Inc. website.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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