Like most teens, when Leslie Bhutani was growing up in the late 1970s, she was too embarrassed to ask her mom about birth control.
Luckily, a friend told her about Planned Parenthood, where she received both counseling and birth control, and avoided any unintended pregnancies. As a result, she was able to pursue a college degree and a successful career in the financial industry.
Fast-forward 20 years, when Bhutani was married with two young children and living in suburban Connecticut. A friend invited her to a Planned Parenthood benefit, and Bhutani was happy to go.
“I thought family planning was an essential service, especially as I realized how difficult parenting was even under the best of circumstances,” she said.
Since then, Bhutani has devoted her boundless energy and enthusiasm to volunteer and fundraising work for Planned Parenthood, first joining the board of her local Connecticut affiliate in 1996 and then the Santa Barbara affiliate in 2011, after moving to Santa Barbara part time several years earlier.
On a recent Saturday night, in recognition of her dedication and hard work, the Planned Parenthood California Central Coast affiliate awarded Bhutani its prestigious Jean K. Schuyler Award at its annual Birds and Bees Bash, where 525 guests enjoyed drinks, dinner and an after-hours dance party at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara resort.
Not by coincidence, Bhutani is the board member who suggested changing what had been a small, quiet annual dinner into a much bigger celebration, which raises considerably more funds, and she served as the bash chairwoman until two years ago.
During her remarks, Bhutani asked several senior staff members who have had long careers at Planned Parenthood to stand up, saying that they were the ones who should be winning awards. The women included Sherry Madsen, vice president of development, who has worked at Planned Parenthood for 19 years; Yolanda Robles, chief operating officer, who has worked there for 22 years; Julie Mickelberry, vice president for public policy and advocacy, who has worked there for 16 years; and Jenna Tosh, chief executive officer, who has worked there for nine years.
“All of the women I have introduced could have been working in corporate America with significantly greater financial rewards,” she said. “We are so fortunate that there are other rewards motivating them.”
After dinner, guests heard compelling stories from three patients, two women and one man, who were identified only by their first names.
“Planned Parenthood really gets it,” said Lexi, who told an emotional story of getting help from Planned Parenthood for a friend who was raped after other adults in her life refused to help her. “They do not shy away from these issues.”
Also speaking at the event was the board’s chairwoman, Dr. Karen Engberg, who said that after the 2016 election, supporters of Planned Parenthood were worried as lawmakers threatened its funding.
“There was a near certainty that two-thirds of our operating budget was going to go away overnight,” she said. “But we raised our voices, and we were heard.”
The silver lining, Engberg said, is that Planned Parenthood has many new supporters, including 3,600 local first-time donors.
“Luckily, defunding never came to pass and our health-care clinic doors are open,” she said.
Top sponsors of the Birds and Bees Bash included Leslie and Ashish Bhutani, Tracy and Michael Bollag, the Kirby Foundation, and Kristen Klingbeil-Weis and Karl Weis. The co-chairwomen for the event were Cynthia Abulafia, Amy Baird and Wendy Wheeler Smith.