MANATEE -- During 20 years as the leader of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, Barbara Zdravecky said she never let abortion protesters, battles for funds and politicians bent on turning back the clock on women's health rights get her down.
That's why people such as Democrat Alex Sink, fresh off her loss in the special election Tuesday for the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Bill Young, came to Sarasota to honor and support
"She's my friend and she's always been there for me," Sink said Thursday during "Celebrate," a swanky party thrown for Zdravecky and attended by 300 who dined in a splendid white tent on the grounds of the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee campus.
"She's on an incredible mission and she's had an incredible impact," Sink said of Zdravecky.
Bradenton's Karin Grablin said "passion" is the word that best describes Zdravecky.
"She's like a multi-faceted diamond," said Grablin, former board chairwoman for Planned Parenthood. "She's so versatile, flexible and able to make connections with people."
Bradenton's Greg and Jan Porges were also on hand to honor Zdravecky.
"She's energetic, intelligent, honest, and won't take no for an answer," said Greg Porges, a Bradenton attorney. "She's a very dynamic lady who has dedicated her entire life to women's causes and planned parenthood."
Just before the music and dancing started in the tent under clear Florida skies, Zdravecky made a powerful speech inside a campus building before about 40 VIPs, which included donors, the media and others.
"I've seen amazing change in the 20 years I have been here," said Zdravecky, dressed in a bright orange dress. "We've grown from three health centers to seven. We've tripled the number of patients that come to use every year for high-quality, non-judgmental, compassionate and confidential care."
"Every year, we provide health care services and contraception to more than 20,000 patients and perform 2,300 life-saving breast exams, helping alert patients of possible cancers."
Zdravecky said that while expanding services, the organization still has the same fights. "We still have anti-woman's health protesters outside our health centers," Zdravecky said.
As the guests were driving to the campus, about a half-dozen protesters were holding anti-abortion signs outside.
"I look at Planned Parenthood as serial killers for hire," said Kevin Bowman while holding a sign reading "Abortion is Murder."
Zdravecky said if protesters really looked at what Planned Parenthood does they would stand alongside the organization.
"We administer nearly 17,000 tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections," Zdravecky said.
Zdravecky also got applause when she told the crowd Florida was No. 1 in the nation in health insurance marketplace enrollments in February -- bolstered by Planned Parenthood efforts.