Local Planned Parenthood sees half a century of service; leaders to be honored at annual gala
By Morgan M. Hurley | SDUN Assistant Editor
The local affiliate of Planned Parenthood is turning 50 this year and organizers hope the community will celebrate with them May 9 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.
Doubling as the annual fundraising dinner for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (PPPSW), the celebratory occasion – titled “50 Years Strong” – will kick off with a cocktail hour at 5:30 p.m.
A dinner and program will follow at 6:30 p.m. and will include a brief “state of the agency” presentation by President and CEO Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson, an appearance by attending dignitaries including Mayor Bob Filner, a video retrospective saluting the organization and an award ceremony.
Retiring Medical Director Dr. Katharine Sheehan, a Del Mar, Calif. resident who first joined the local affiliate as medical director in 1981 when it was called Planned Parenthood of San Diego & Riverside counties, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Sheehan is a graduate of Wellesley College and Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, and held the title of medical director for her entire 32-year tenure.
She has also been identified as a long-time leader in the national organization, with organizers saying patients have “benefitted enormously” from her commitment to reproductive health.
“It’s been the definition of my professional life,” Sheehan said of her lifelong focus on Planned Parenthood’s mission. Planned Parenthood’s website states the organization is “the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider and advocate … [working] to improve women’s health and safety, prevent unintended pregnancies, and advance the right and ability of individuals and families to make informed and responsible choices.”
Three special keynote speakers – Sarah Weddington, Cecile Richards and Jessica Valenti – will speak that evening. Weddington was the winning attorney in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that made abortion legal in all 50 states. Richards is the current President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Valenti writes for The Nation and is founder of feministing.com.
“They represent the past, present and future of feminism,” said Jennifer Coburn, PPPSW director of communications and marketing.
The organization’s development team, which supports San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties, has been hard at work all year on the event, said Mary Veta, one of the event organizers and a 30-year employee of PPPSW.
Last year’s fundraising dinner, also at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, raised $1.2 million for the organization, and with an annual operating budget of $56 million, Coburn said they hope to top that fundraising number this year.
“It’s been an honor to serve the San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties for 50 years and we’re looking forward to doing even more in the next 50,” Coburn said. “In the next few years we hope to have some help centers in Imperial Valley and expand our scope of services. We are really excited about the Affordable Health Care Act and so many people having access to health care next year.”
Coburn said Planned Parenthood has also been a staunch political and social ally of the LGBT community.
“I’m the chair of the LGBT Task Force here and we’re really working hard to promote the importance of having cervical cancer screenings for lesbian women, because so many women feel that they don’t need a pap smear because they’re not having sex with men,” she said.
The organization has been reaching out to the LGBT community to show why Planned Parenthood is important to the community, Coburn said.
“We are one of the largest providers of testing and treatment for STDs in San Diego County. We do rapid HIV testing and anyone who needs a condom or a dental dam can come to Planned Parenthood and get these products at no cost,” she said.
Event chairs of 50 Years Strong are Nora Taylor Jaffe and Kathleen L. Strauss, with honorary chairs K. Andrew Achterkirchen, Joan Jordan Bernstein, Susanna and Michael Flaster, PPPSW Board Chair R. Elaine Hanson and her husband Bruce Robbins, Rosanne and Joel Holliday, Nora Taylor Jaffe, and Christy Walton. The Strauss Family Foundation will be offering a $50,000 matching gift challenge at the event.
Entertainment at the dinner will be provided by the Blue Breeze Band, a Motown-tribute band chosen to keep with the retro theme of the evening and a nod to the organization’s 1963 beginning, Veta said.
Hilton San Diego Bayfront is located at 1 Park Blvd., Downtown. Individual tickets start at $150, with tables of 10 starting at $1,500. For more information about the anniversary dinner or to purchase tickets, visit planned.org/dinner. Those unable to attend are encouraged to make a donation at supportplannedparenthood.org.