Desert AIDS Project Offers Fresh Leases On Life
Text & Photos by Sean Black
Hudson Mark is many things, but, most of all, he’s grateful.
“Moving into Vista Sunrise Apartments was the wisest choice I’ve ever made,” shares the retired interior designer and former single-engine pilot who has struggled with the touch-and-go’s of HIV/AIDS for over thirty years. Named after the historical town in New York, where he was born and spent the first half of his life, Hudson is pleased with his recent decision, after qualifying, to move into the housing complex that sits on the Desert AIDS Project (D.A.P.) campus in Palm Springs, California, with his Chihuahua, Taxi.
“I can now afford dental care along with the specialized medical treatment that I need to survive,” shares the optimistic and newly relaxed resident client. “I am finally able to get back on my feet.” Legally blind from a combination of painful medical complications and a degenerative eye disease, Hudson is also relieved and appreciative of the care and services that D.A.P. offers to him and other individuals living with HIV or AIDS.
D.A.P. has been helping to improve the lives of thousands of people, like Hudson, throughout Southern California since its all-volunteer
beginnings in 1984. Over thirty years, the organization has grown into an impressive facility dedicated to addressing the holistic needs of its desert city’s community, which has an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate twice the national average.
An excerpt from D.A.P.’s “Guiding Principles” gives an idea of the organization’s commitment to its clients as well as to sustaining its mission:
“We will always listen first, and then act with openness, honesty, and integrity so that our relationships flourish.
“We will provide effective, accessible, and responsive services, and we commit to evaluating our effort so that changes can be made when it is in the best interest of those we serve.
“We will set demanding targets and make tough decisions and take considered risks to achieve them, and pursue partnership to obtain resources that enable us to do so.”
Providing comprehensive care, including medical treatment, case management, and social services, like food, housing and counseling, D.A.P. focuses on prevention as well by offering free and confidential HIV testing at a number of locations throughout the Coachella Valley including at Revivals, their chain of thrift and consignment stores. D.A.P. is the lead partner in a region-wide, multi-year, multi-million dollar HIV testing campaign called Get Tested Coachella Valley that has already attracted participation by fifty-plus partners, including all three local hospitals. Desert Regional Medical Center, and its parent Tenet Corporation, stepped up in a big way with a gift of $1.5 million, attracting the approval of former President Bill Clinton, who visited D.A.P. in January as a part of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative’s considerable local efforts.
In an earlier press release, David Brinkman, CEO of Desert AIDS Project stated: “In 2013, almost eighty-nine percent of our clients were living at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, which is just under $23,000 for one person.” He continued, “With HIV medications averaging $25,000 or more annually, its easy to see why many of D.A.P.’s clients need assistance with housing and so many other aspects of daily living that you or I might take for granted.”
To address this critical dilemma, which Marketing & Communications Director Barry Dayton admits, “sometimes exceeds capacity,” D.A.P. provides housing services and supplemental assistance to more than 450 individuals living with HIV/AIDS each year, including complete housing at its eighty-unit Vista Sunrise Apartments, where Hudson and Taxi live.
D.A.P. has diversified its revenue streams to include grants and contracts from public and private funders; fee-for-service from private insurance, Medicare, and other sources; and its Revivals stores. However, support from individual donors through its Partners for Life, 100 Women annual giving programs, and the community’s support of major events such as Dining Out for Life, Desert AIDS Walk, Dinner at My Place, Dancing with the Desert Stars, and Mid-Summer Dance Party, also provide crucial funding.
D.A.P.’s signature benefit, the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards gala, was named in memoriam of acclaimed interior designer Steve Chase who was an active D.A.P. donor/volunteer/board member for many years until he succumbed to AIDS-related complications in 1994. The 2013 gala raised more than $1.4 million for client services, thanks in no small part to the support of generous sponsors including Integrated Wealth Management, Wells Fargo, Eisenhower Medical Center, Walgreens, Desert Regional Medical Center, Harold Matzner, Annette Bloch, Helene Galen, Auen Foundation, Elgart Aster and Paul Swerdlove, Donna MacMillan, Hard Rock Hotel, and Reaction Marketing, along with many others.
“For twenty years, the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards gala has entertained Desert AIDS Project supporters and crystallized the organization’s mission,” said Barbara Keller, D.A.P. board chair and gala co-chair since 2009. During this year’s gala she announced,
“Tonight, I promise you’ll understand, like never before, the reasons D.A.P. is so vital to our desert community. You’ll understand where we’ve been and know how far we’ve come.”
In addition to Keller, the gala was co-chaired by Jim Casey of Integrated Wealth Management, a presenting sponsor for the last six years. The entertainment line-up included LaTonya Holmes, Jane Krakowski, Tomasina Abate, Eden Espinosa, Nita Whitaker LaFontaine, Eric Martsolf, choreographer Ray Leeper from the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance along with ten of his best dancers and the singers of Live It Up Productions under the creative direction of Trini Garza and his co-creative director Brandon Alameda.
Presenters included Brinkman, Keller, philanthropists and major sponsors Annette Bloch and Harold Matzner, actress Donna Mills, journalist Steve Bolerjack and AIDS and gay rights activist Peter Staley. Local honorees included Curt Ringness, Terri Ketover, and David Kaplan and Glenn Ostergaard for their outstanding service, leadership and community contributions.
Added to this year’s gala event was “AIDS in Cinema” a special 2014 Arts and Activism Award given to creative advocates for their contributions in the fight against HIV/AIDS through film. Winners included Don Roos, writer of Boys on the Side, a feature film that included an HIV-positive character; David France and Joy Tomchin for How to Survive a Plague, the Oscar-nominated documentary about activism during the first decade of the AIDS crisis; Ron Nyswaner and Ed Saxon for Philadelphia, the Oscar winner starring Tom Hanks; and Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford for And the Band Played On, the groundbreaking HBO docudrama based on the nonfiction book by Randy Shilts.
Walking the red carpet as well were producer Josh Feinman and actor Gilles Duarte, part of collaborative television project titled Front Seat Chronicles, where storylines for episodes are contributed by “people who have never written for TV or film but are simply sharing their real-life stories,” shares Feinman.
He continues, “D.A.P.’s Steve Chase event further motivated me and my creative partner Allen Sowelle to explore the types of conversations that will ease shame and shed light on the stigmas that surround the virus.”
“Our episode ‘If I Tell You’ is an attempt to stir up awareness,” he adds. Duarte stars in the French version of this HIV-themed episode.
“It’s a great evening of activism and entertainment with something for everyone,” said Casey. For Hudson Mark that “something” is his life and for that he’s truly thankful.
For more information about Desert AIDS Project, log on to: www.desertaidsproject.org. D.A.P. facilitates ways to participate in raising funds and awareness, such as the upcoming Dining Out for Life (April 24) and Queen of the Desert: A So-Cal Lip Sync Competition (May 28).
Sean Black is an Editor at Large for A&U. He interviewed and photographed Phill Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute for the February cover story.