By Connie Wardman
I recently had an opportunity to talk with Barry Dayton, director of marketing and communications for the Desert AIDS Project (D.A.P.) in Palm Springs. Recognized nationally as one of the most comprehensive HIV/AIDS services providers in the U.S., D.A.P. is one of only a handful of agencies that operates an on-site medical clinic, a full range of client support services as well as a comprehensive HIV education and prevention program that includes free and confidential HIV testing.
What is D.A.P.’s mission?
Barry Dayton: These words are on the back of every employee’s business card: “Until there’s a cure, the vision of Desert AIDS is of healthy individuals, families and communities despite the existence of HIV. Since 1984, we’ve strived to bring this vision to life because the mission of Desert AIDS Project is to enhance health and well-being.”
Please share a brief history of D.A.P.
The roots of Desert AIDS Project go back to the earliest diagnoses of a mysterious disease that was causing people to become gravely ill, seemingly overnight – and often dying while still young. That’s when concerned nurses, social workers and other community members sprang into action through Desert AIDS Project which was then part of the Community Counseling and Consultation Center.
Someday, we hope that people will come to D.A.P. to be cured rather than for ongoing care of their HIV. Until that day, D.A.P.’s holistic model of care focuses on the complete medical and social support needs of those who seek our service.
What community does D.A.P. serve?
We say that “H is for Human” when it comes to HIV and AIDS because this has never been a gay disease. Palm Springs is both a vacation destination and a popular retirement choice for many in the LGBT community so it’s not surprising that we serve the HIV-specialty and primary healthcare needs of lots of older gay men. But we also have clients spanning the spectrums of race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. As a Federally Qualified Health Center lookalike, our doors are open to anyone and we offer lots of other services as well.
Our Annette Bloch Cancer Care Center has invited the public to participate in annual oral cancer screening clinics for three consecutive years, as well as to participate in the 20-year-long Cancer Prevention Study-3 by the American Cancer Society. Mrs. Bloch founded the center with a $1 million gift to D.A.P. because she’d learned that certain kinds of cancers often affect those living with HIV.
The Dock, our sexual health wellness clinic specializing in preventing and treating sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has been busy since the day it opened. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is one of the services The Dock offers, so we are launching a PrEP campaign through social media and video to help HIV-negative people learn how they can stay that way.
How has the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS changed?
Fighting against HIV stigma is one of the reasons we opened our Client Wellness Services Center many years ago – so that clients wouldn’t be isolated at home but instead have a place to gather with people who understood the challenges they face every day.
We recently launched our Get Tested Coachella Valley initiative with the help of our community partners, like Desert Regional Medical Center and its parent company, Tenet Corporation which made the lead gift of $1.5 million. We have already made significant strides toward getting everyone aged 12 and over tested for HIV free and confidentially. Whether they test negative or positive, we give them appropriate education and connections to additional care if necessary. It’s been proven that those who get on appropriate meds soon after their HIV diagnosis are 96 percent less likely to spread the virus to others.
How does D.A.P. connect to the sports community?
Many of our clients, volunteers and staff members create teams for our annual Desert AIDS Walk which includes a community fair where lots of organizations promote healthy activities in which our clients can become involved. In 2010, our Walk included a 5K run.
We also love to promote the work of the annual Tour de Palm Springs bike ride. And lots of locals have annually supported and donated to area cyclists and “roadies” participating in the nationwide AIDS/Life Cycle event, raising tens of thousands of dollars annually to support the great work of so many AIDS organizations over the years.
Many of our clients like to attend the Palm Springs Hot Rodeo in April which D.A.P. uses as part of our testing outreach program. This year Revivals, the consignment shops benefiting D.A.P., was one of the rodeo’s buckle sponsors.
Lots of our clients also enjoy bowling so some join the gay bowling leagues that run year-round in Palm Springs. Additionally, D.A.P. helps to support the annual bowling event for the Human Rights Campaign, which we see as a great way for us to continue building connections between our staff and other local organizations.
What new initiatives does D.A.P. have coming up?
Just as we are doing through social media now for PrEP, watch for similar activity to promote upcoming efforts to encourage testing and treatment for syphilis which is still an epidemic sexually-transmitted infection among many segments of the population. We’re also forming an advisory board and a recovery curriculum for meth addiction.
How can someone volunteer at D.A.P.?
We love our volunteers – they were the start of it all and are still the lifeblood of D.A.P. All of the information, including an online volunteer form is on our website, at desertaidsproject.org.