1984: At a time when public agencies and the health-care system were slow to respond to the HIV epidemic in the Coachella Valley, a community of grass-roots volunteers founded Desert AIDS Project (D.A.P.).
Aug. 14, 1984: With the approval of California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, the Community Counseling & Consultation Center became an official nonprofit corporation which would provide the government funding channel to Desert AIDS Project.
Sept. 5, 1984: First official Desert AIDS Project meeting was held at 7 p.m. at Desert Hospital in the Mezzanine Room of the Sinatra Center. The first D.A.P. office was at 610 S. Belardo Road in Palm Springs.
Oct. 20, 1984: First fundraiser – hosted jointly with the Desert Business Association (DBA) – at the Palm Springs High School Auditorium. “Broadway Lights & Hollywood Nights,” presented by the Great American Yankee Freedom Band and the L.A. Gay Men’s Chorus.
1985: Upon FDA approval of the first test to detect HIV antibodies in blood, Desert AIDS Project responded immediately by initiating its own HIV/AIDS testing program in the Coachella Valley.
April 26, 1987: First gala benefit for Desert AIDS Project – “Palm Springs – A Day in the 30s” at the Palm Springs Marquis Hotel. Honorees: Desert AIDS Project founders and desert area AIDS doctors. Sponsorship: $1,200 – included eight reception tickets and two dinner tickets.
June 1988: D.A.P. moves into new offices at 750 S. Vella Road. The project provides health education and prevention programs on AIDS, HIV testing, social services and counseling support services to AIDS victims, their families and friends.
May 4, 1989: The Desert Sun produced a 20–page special section – “AIDS in the Valley” – in conjunction with the inaugural Desert AIDS Walk. The section featured stories of people living with AIDS; AIDS education in the community and schools; updates on medical treatments and research; national and local AIDS statistics; and countless advertisements expressing support for the work of D.A.P. and the gay community.
May 7, 1989: First Annual Desert AIDS Walk, a 10K held in downtown Palm Springs. Dr. David Kaminsky and wife Janice were event chairmen. Actor Kirk Douglas and wife Anne participated in the walk. Kirk spoke to the crowd before the participants hit the street. “Let’s walk, run, do whatever we can to eradicate AIDS,” he said. Former President Gerald Ford and former first lady Betty Ford attended the post-walk picnic event held on the patio area of the Desert Fashion Plaza.
Feb. 15, 1991: Desert AIDS Project expands its Vella Road offices and opens a medical clinic, which is staffed, full-time, by physician Bruce Lloyd and nurse practitioner Kathy McCauley, both formerly of the Riverside County Health Department’s clinic in Palm Springs. A full-time nurse, receptionist, lab technician and clinic manager were also hired.
Feb. 14, 1993: A Valentine’s gala honoring former first lady and recovery advocate Betty Ford, philanthropist Joan Kroc and international interior designer Steve Chase “for their support and generous contributions” was held at the McCallum Theatre. Singer Jane Olivor headlined the event.
1994: When HIV care was not available in the eastern Coachella Valley where language and socio-economic challenges persist, Desert AIDS Project responded by opening a satellite office in Indio to provide HIV and Hepatitis C screenings, as well as early intervention and case management services for underserved and primarily low-income, Hispanic/Latino communities.
Feb. 13, 1995: First Annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards was held at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert. Actress Mary Steenburgen and Luc Montagnier, president of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, were honored for their individual efforts in the fight against AIDS. Tom Hanks, who presented the award to Steenburgen, read a congratulatory letter from then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
1995: The very first Revivals store was opened in a back corner of the Desert AIDS Project office on Vella Road. Since those earliest days, the funds raised through selling donated goods at Revivals have gone back to support client services at D.A.P., while also providing a great volunteer opportunity for those who wanted to support the organization with their time and retail talents.
1998: When the primary facility in Palm Springs was no longer able to accommodate an increasing patient load, local philanthropists responded with the purchase of the current 44,000-square-foot campus in Palm Springs, at 1695 N. Sunrise Way, to meet the increasing demand for services and a larger medical clinic.
May 1999: Desert AIDS Project moves to its new location at 1695 N. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs.
2001: As patients affected by HIV were suffering from nutritional challenges as a result of their inability to maintain steady employment, the Morris & Lila Linsky family responded by building a Food Depot on the Desert AIDS Project campus to provide healthy food distribution, grocery vouchers and dietary guidance to over 300 clients per month.
Feb. 11, 2002: Gov. Gray Davis made the opening remarks at the eighth annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards Gala. “You’re doing God’s work,” Davis told the crowd of 1,300 participants at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The governor called Desert AIDS Project an oasis of hope and help for thousands of people in California. Jeanne White, the mother of Ryan White, whose boyhood battle made him an international symbol for the care of people living with AIDS, was among the honorees.
June 2003: Desert AIDS Project launches its website, www.desertaidsproject.org.
April 27, 2006: Desert AIDS Project launches “Dining Out for Life” – which has become an annual fundraising event, where, for one day, participating local restaurants donate a percentage of their sales to D.A.P.
2007: When there was a lack of affordable housing for many in the valley living with HIV and other chronic conditions, philanthropist Philip Caplin responded by helping to fund Vista Sunrise Apartments on the Desert AIDS Project campus.
2008: When patients affected by HIV could not find culturally competent dentists who could care for them, philanthropists Georgia & Gerald Fogelson responded by building the first adult, HIV-specialty dental clinic in Riverside County on the Desert AIDS Project campus.
Sept. 24, 2011: Desert AIDS Project’s inaugural “Dancing with the Desert Stars” fundraiser is held at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Actor Leslie Jordan and singer Thelma Houston participate as judges.
2012: When it was discovered during the course of HIV testing that certain types of cancer disproportionately affected persons living with HIV, philanthropist Annette Bloch stepped forward with a $1 million donation to fund a cancer care center dedicated to specialized HIV-related cancer research, screenings, treatment and prevention, ensuring that patients would receive timely and effective care.
2014: HIV infection remains disturbingly high in the Coachella Valley, more than double the national rate of infection. In response, Desert AIDS Project launched Get Tested Coachella Valley as the nation’s first nonprofit-led, region-wide HIV testing, prevention, education and linkage to care initiative. Over 81,000 Coachella Valley residents were tested for HIV, and the testing work continues today.
2015: When it was discovered that a lack of access to sexual wellness information contributes to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in the Coachella Valley, D.A.P.’s community of volunteers and donors helped launch THE DOCK, a walk-in, no-appointment-necessary clinic that provides HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) testing, linkage to care and access to HIV preventative medication Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
2016: When a serious and growing need for Hepatitis care emerged in the Coachella Valley, especially with regard to co-infection rates among persons living with HIV, D.A.P.’s community of volunteers and donors helped support the D.A.P. Hepatitis Center of Excellence to deliver comprehensive, state-of-the-art expertise to manage, support and cure those afflicted with Hepatitis C.
Outlook: More than 50 percent of Coachella Valley residents live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($24,000 a year). With the support of the community of volunteers and donors, Desert AIDS Project’s new capital campaign will allow it to expand its campus, programs and services to meet the rapidly increasing affordable and quality health care needs of 10,000 potential clients. It will more than double D.A.P.’s current scope of service to communities in need. It’s slated to be completed by 2020 or 2021.
Sources: Desert AIDS Project, The Desert Sun, Los Angeles Times