Thirty years ago, in the middle of what was becoming the AIDS epidemic, the Desert AIDS Project was founded to help locals deal with the crisis.
On Friday, July 25, at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, the Desert AIDS Project will be celebrating its three decades with its annual Mid-Summer Dance Party. Playing at the event will be Independent resident DJ All Night Shoes, and DJ Femme A. Cameron Neilson, formerly on the television show X-Factor, will also be providing entertainment.
Darrell Tucci, DAP’s chief development officer, discussed how the organization began.
“A group of people locally saw what was taking place as far as the (AIDS crisis) was concerned in the 1980s,” Tucci said. “DAP became one of the first AIDS services organizations in the country in 1984. The Desert AIDS Project over the years has allowed itself to keep its fingers on the pulse of the epidemic, the needs of the people affected, and to grow and expand to offer the services that were needed along the way.”
When AIDS and HIV were first identified, there were few, if any, helpful treatment options. When asked what services were offered during the early years of the organization, Tucci offered a grim reminder of those days.
“Most AIDS service organizations started as organizations that could provide comfort,” Tucci said. “The earliest organizations were activist-oriented, not care-oriented, because no one knew how to provide care for a disease that no one understood yet. As those questions became answered, care was … provided. In the earliest days, buddy programs were developed: If you were living with HIV, and it was already isolating because of how it manifested in your body, another person in the community who may or may not be HIV-positive could be a buddy in your life to help support you emotionally or physically.”
Thankfully, the medical field began making progress in treating those with HIV.
“As more progress grew in medicine, medical clinics developed as federal government money started to be poured into it. Case management had to be created—to make sure people were eligible to receive services the government was paying for, but also to make sure people were dealing with the challenges of managing their own illness.”
In its three decades, the Desert AIDS Project has provided a vast number of services, from apartment-style housing for clients that sits behind the DAP campus on Sunrise Boulevard in Palm Springs, to social support, basic-needs care, and holistic and metaphysical care. Tucci said the Desert AIDS Project has also started offering dental care in recent years.
“Fifteen years ago, no one worried about dental care, because patients weren’t really living long enough. … Now that we have people living for decades, the No. 1 thing they told us four or five years ago is, ‘We need access to dental care, and we can’t afford it.’ So we developed one of the first HIV specialty dental clinics in the country. Two years ago, we expanded it.”
Some people have questioned the financials of the organization through the years. However, Charity Navigator, a site that ranks nonprofit organizations, gives DAP a four-star rating, the highest a nonprofit organization can have, and reports that DAP spends 81.6 percent of its budget on the programs and services it delivers.
“In total, we currently serve 2,300 people across all of the different services we provide,” Tucci said. “Right now, our budget is around $20 million. Our overhead expenses tend to hover between 13 percent and 18 percent per year, which is well below the federal guidelines of 25 percent. We run a very financially healthy organization, and we make sure that every dollar that gets donated here is maximized as to how it cares for our organization.”
Tucci said the upcoming Desert AIDS Project birthday celebration will be a much more relaxed function than usual.
“It’s been at the Ace Hotel for years,” Tucci said about the Mid-Summer Dance Party. “It’s usually about 500-plus people. It’s an informal event where there are no speeches, and there are no awards. Not that those things are bad, but it is the one time of the year where we bring everyone together to have a real party. We’re bringing in two of the valley’s best DJs. We’re bringing in Cameron Neilson, who used to be on The X-Factor and he’s going to do a couple of special performances that night. Being that it is our anniversary, we thought it was time to have a birthday party.”
The Mid-Summer Dance Party takes place from 8 p.m. to midnight on Friday, July 25, at the Commune at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $40 to $75; the late-night party pass, which gains attendees entry after 10 p.m., is $20. For tickets or more information, call the Desert AIDS Project at 760-992-0440, or visit www.desertAIDSproject.org.