Desert AIDS Project hosts deeply personal 2020 Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards
By Steven Henke and Jack Bunting
In an evening filled with profoundly personal moments The 26th Annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards became a masterclass in human potential. This years ‘Chase’, like the organization it benefits, created a space of community and connection while paying homage to some of the staunchest allies of Desert AIDS Project (DAP) and its mission. It also raised over $1 million for its client programs and services.
A powerful tribute to Barbara Keller, both on screen and in speeches, inspired all in attendance to keep her spirit of giving alive. In addition, humanitarian leaders in the fields of journalism, philanthropy, and science were honored for their contributions to end HIV.
This year’s highly anticipated headliner Kristin Chenowith, a longtime friend of DAP, helped everyone in the ballroom of the Palm Springs Convention Center get in touch with their humanity with an unforgettable performance.
It was a night to celebrate as well as build for the future. DAP has provided quality and comprehensive healthcare to residents of the Coachella Valley for 35 years. The evening highlighted the work DAP does to remove roadblocks to human potential every day, whether by providing lifesaving, world-class medical, dental, and behavioral health services, food and transportation, or housing and employment.
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth wowed the crowd with heartwarming classics.
At an Exciting Crossroads
This year’s Steve Chase gala marks a time of great change for DAP. The recent naming of the Barbara Keller Love Building on its campus was a fitting tribute after the passing in 2019 of one of DAP’s greatest benefactors.
And with less than a month until the ribbon cutting for its two new clinics, the agency is poised to make good on its promise to offer more clients the Patient Centered Medical Home model of care, in settings that elevate their experience and enable medical teams to serve them much more thoroughly.
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
2020 Humanitarian Awards Co-Chairs Kevin Bass, Partick Jordan, and Lauri Kibby applaud DAP.
PCMH at DAP: the healthcare model of the future
In a deeply personal speech, Desert AIDS Project CEO David Brinkman shared his story of entering humanitarian work 25 years ago. From trying to convince bathhouse patrons to use protection as a “condom fairy,” to running a homeless youth services and advocacy organization, Mr. Brinkman knew all too well about the link between poverty and poor health outcomes.
At the helm of DAP for the last 14 years, he has pushed the organization to prevent those poor health outcomes for members of the community, regardless of their ability to pay. The one silver lining from the AIDS crisis, according to him, is that DAP learned how to help people live by not settling for what was offered in the traditional healthcare system.
“We’ve learned that surviving HIV isn’t just about taking one pill a day,” he said. “Those who survive also have housing, get restorative sleep, eat nutritiously, see a therapist, and have good dental health as well as an excellent physician.”
In a shout-out to his Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Brinkman asked, “Right, Dr. Morris?”
The Patient Centered Medical Home model of delivering healthcare to clients is an apex that eludes many healthcare organizations. But because DAP championed patient centered care as a way to help clients survive HIV before there was antiviral medication, it is uniquely able to offer the PCMH model without a drastic reinvention of itself.
It did require new clinic construction and technology for heightened collaboration practices among clinical teams, which required asking the community to increase its commitment of support, starting in 2018. With the new clinics opening next month, Mr. Brinkman’s gratitude was palpable.
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
CEO David Brinkman shared why DAP’s work is deeply personal to him.
He reminded the audience “We quite simply could not do the lifesaving work we do without you.”
Mr. Brinkman also called attention to new client populations in the Coachella Valley who increasingly rely on DAP for their healthcare.
“There are nearly 20,000 of our desert brothers and sisters living in poverty without health insurance,” he said.
“The vast majority of these people, they don’t have HIV, but they’re disenfranchised in many ways,” he said. “They’re people of color; they’re trans; they’re immigrants; they’re women; English isn’t their first language; they’re homeless.”
One thing is certain: “All of them need help.”
His commitment to serving new client populations was clear.
“We’re not going to turn them away,” he said. “Quite the opposite; we just ask, ‘how can we help you’”?
The new clinics that will serve more than 10,000 clients have been built with the technology and layout that make delivering PCMH possible, even if “treating the whole person” is a concept that isn’t new at DAP.
To Dr. Morris, opening DAP’s doors wider to serve clients who might not have considered DAP before is part of what fuels him.
“We’re much more inclusive these days by having patients who don’t have HIV, by expanding services to our transgender community, and offering more care for women who need services.” he said. “It’s a very exciting time to be in leadership and help build this bridge to a new place and new places to grow for DAP.”
Donning their most fashionable finery, almost 1,500 of our valley’s most glamourous and generous humanitarians started the evening outside the Palm Springs Convention Center at the Steve Chase Fashion Experience.
Guests and media began strolling the 300-foot long red carpet, generously sponsored by Walgreens, greeted on either side by the iconic art pieces of Karen Barone and Tony Barone.
Closer in, a giant step-and-repeat backdrop for photographs was the ideal destination, but not before checking in with our valley’s top media:
Dazzling experience continued inside
The scene outside was projected onto giant screens at the cocktail reception, so that guests could still peruse silent auction items and enjoy libations without missing the excitement of the red carpet.
Dancers atop a two-story catwalk above the bar brought the music to life for guests who mingled below. The structure wowed attendees with cascading fresh flowers, designed by Vaso Bello Celebrations.
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
DAP’s Event Director Debbie Chapman designed an immersive experince during the cocktail party.
Inside the dinner, event co-chair, Patrick Jordan welcomed attendees by touching upon DAP’s turbulent beginning and echoing how that hardship has set it up to survive tomorrow.
“At DAP, our past is what ensures our future,” he said. “Every obstacle overcome; all the lessons learned; each scientific advancement made.”
Mr. Jordan expressed unbridled optimism for finding solutions to problems in our community.
“At DAP, every sunrise and sunset shines a light on the stepping stones that will lead our community onward and upward,” he said.
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
Annette Bloch and Andrei Muresan attend the 2020 Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards.
The evening got underway with a loving video tribute to Barbara Keller, whose commitment to DAP is the stuff of legends. In ten years, Barbara raised approximately $10 million for DAP client services. According to those closest to her, she led by example, and her sense of justice and fairness were her greatest gifts.
Longtime DAP advocate and former senator Barbara Boxer said of her friend, “For Barbara, it was a question of right and wrong—it was this feeling that we’re all equal,” she said.
“That if people don’t have a voice and you have one, you use it.”
And how should we honor the legacy of Barbara Keller, who over ten years raised millions to remove roadblocks to accessing healthcare here in our valley?
“We’ve all got to step up,” she said. “Step up!”
One attendee described the video as a “master class in how to be a humanitarian.”
Barbara’s husband Jerry and daughter Lindsay were in attendance at the gala.
Co-Chair Lauri Kibby
Co-chair Lauri Kibby delivered a call-to-action for the evening.
“If you believe as I do, that a community is only as strong as its weakest link, then you must agree that the well-being of our community requires us all to be well,” she said.
“Think bigger—stretch farther—dig deeper,” she said, “Put aside your qualms and trust me.”
Kibby and others from DAP recently attended the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Kigali, Rwanda. CEO David Brinkman presented on DAP’s 35 years of best practices, after being invited by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS.
DAP leadership also toured Kigali health centers fighting for the same result as DAP: patient centered healthcare.
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
Steve Chase Humanitarian Award Co-Chair Lauri Kibby enters the after party.
For people not living with HIV, lack of access to primary care is a major driver of new infections, no matter where on the globe they live.
When it came to sharing success factors in delivering patient centered care, the U.S. visitors and their Rwandan hosts shared the same observation: community commitment is required for anything meaningful to happen.
After the trip, Kibby’s commitment to DAP was even stronger.
“I was struck with the magnitude of DAP’s achievements,” she said. “The depth of its influence on others who need its wisdom.”
After telling the audience she was so thankful they were still supporting DAP, she shared:
“When I came back from Africa, I doubled my commitment to DAP.”
Deborah L. Birx, MD.
DAP Board Member and local entrepreneur, Athalie Lapamuk accompanied by her mother, Adaline Duverger, a retired critical care nurse, presented the Science and Medicine Award to Ambassador-at-Large and United States Global AIDS Coordinator Deborah L. Birx, MD.
Ambassador Birx’s considerable achievements span over a three-decade-long career, focused on HIV/AIDS immunology, vaccine research, and global health. Her accomplishments include overseeing the implementation of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), leading RV 144, one of the most influential HIV vaccine trials in history.
Dr. Birx is also praised for the following programs:
Her speech praised the world of DAP, saying “The amazing work of the Desert AIDS Project – which I had the pleasure to see firsthand yesterday – embodies Steve’s spirit and legacy,” she said. “Through your commitment to excellence in client-centered care, you celebrate and honor the human dignity of everyone that you serve – and give greatly of yourselves for the benefit of others.”
“The Desert AIDS Project is a leader in the way it does its work. They support and invest in a vital organization which continues to innovate. There really is no organization doing this particular work better, anywhere in the world.”
Dr. Birx pointed out similarities between DAP and her organization, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
“We believe that the best answers to a crisis are compassion and commitment,” she said. “We never take for granted that a client will walk through our clinic door – or remain connected to care well into the future – unless we design and deliver HIV services and support that truly meet their needs.”
Whether in Palm Springs or Pretoria, South Africa – healthcare organizations must always place the client and the community at the center of everything that they do, she said.
According to Dr. Birx, one of the best ways to do that is simple but too often overlooked: Ask clients and communities what they require not only to survive but thrive – and then build services that meet them where they are with what they need.
The Partners for Life Award, generously sponsored by Harold Matzner, was presented to Garry Kief by Co-Chair Kevin Bass. Local non-profits benefitting from Mr. Kief’s benevolence include The McCallum Theatre, The Palm Springs International Film Festival, The Manilow Music Project, and Desert AIDS Project.
Bass praised his friend’s commitment to giving back. “Empathy and compassion aren’t learned skills; they’re inherited traits and either you got ‘em or you don’t,” he said. “And Garry’s got ‘em.”
“Garry has been giving his whole life, and not just giving money, but giving of his time and wisdom as well.”
Alongside his husband, Barry Manilow, Kief oversaw the “Gift of Love” Concert series at the McCallum Theater which has raised for $2.5 million for over 25 local charities. Accepting his Award, Kief turned the spotlight back on the local non-profits.
“There are more than 1,000 charities in the Coachella Valley, more than 10,000 volunteers – 400 alone at DAP,” he said. “So this is to honor them; this is to honor you.”
Kief described himself as “the guy who usually stands at the back of the room and watches the things I help make happen.”
His goal, he shared, was always the same – to give back, to involve the village, and to say thanks. What matters is your heart, he said.
“And your heart tells you that together our little village can help cure AIDS, prevent AIDS, and make a life better for those living with AIDS,” he said. “That’s not a political issue. That’s a people issue. And our little village takes care of our people.”
Cliff Morrision presented the Arts & Activism Award to Hank Plante. Morrison and Plante appeared together in the documentary ‘5B’, which was screened locally to a sold-out audience and has been earning awards at film festivals around the world. In 1983, Morrision was working as a nurse at San Francisco General during the AIDS crisis where he successfully petitioned to open Wards 5A and 5B, the first health facility in the U.S. dedicated to providing AIDS treatment. He recalled their meeting 35 years ago when Plante was reporting on a story about Ward 5B.
“Through his intense and relentless pursuit of the truth, an image of Hank surfaces,” he said. “And for me as well as for many other in our community, he had become our Walter Cronkite.”
Plante accepted his award and shared that AIDS was always more than just a story to him.
“Because, as one of the first openly gay TV reporters in the country, it was personal,” he said. “These were my friends who were getting HIV and who were dying.”
“Reporting on AIDS was a way for me to channel my grief and my anger over the disease.” It was also a mental and emotional challenge for Plante.
“There were many times when I’d be shooting a story…and I’d have to go out into the hallway to compose myself and try not to cry,” he said. “I was there to be a professional.”
Plante shared about what it was like to interview patients during that time. They let him invade their lives, he said. They knew they didn’t look well; that their families and co-workers would see the story, that they might face repercussion from doing it- but they always said “yes”, because they wanted to help other people.
The Entertainment: Broadway royalty did more than entertain
No stranger to ‘The Chase’, Emmy and Tony Award winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth was honored with an Arts & Activism Award in 2009. During her sounds check, the tech team showed her a video of her acceptance speech from that awards show where she honored a her voice teacher who passed because of AIDS.
Fittingly, she wore a pink sweater on the red carpet emblazoned with the word ‘NO’.
“We will get a place in the fight against HIV where we won’t need fundraising dinners anymore,” she said.
The deeply personal feeling of the night continued when Chenoweth took attendees down memory lane, performing favorites from The Carpenters, Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton. Her performance was generously sponsored by Living Out.
Acknowledging our challenging times, she honored Leonard Cohen with a rendition of “Hallelujah”, imploring the audience, “We all can agree on this word, can we not? Let’s all sing…”
During her closing of “I Will Always Love You” Chenoweth silenced her band and put down her microphone to finish the serenade, completely a cappella, to guests in the 20,000 square foot ballroom. It lasted almost a minute and the audience erupted in a standing ovation.
Event honoree Garry Kief designed the after-party with his friend Terri Ketover, featuring balloon sculpture walls that had party goers scrambling for the perfect photo opp. Go-Go dancers dressed all in white led the crown in a dance frenzy on a glossy white floor surrounded by a raised VIP lounge and a sweets bar containing cupcakes and cotton candy.
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
The evening continued at an after party produced by Garry Kief.
Bold Face Names Seen at ‘The Chase’
Hank Plante, Harold Matzner, Annette Bloch and Andrei Muresan, Garry Kief and Barry Manilow, Lauri and Charles Kibby, Patrick Jordan and Franck Ford, Kevin Bass and Brent Bloesser, David Brinkman and Dr. Will Grimm, Gayle Hodges & Art Wedmore, Terri and Bart Ketover, Kyle Mudd and Louis Smith, Steve Tobin and Johnny Krupa, Dennis Flaig-Moore and Clint Moore, Karla Kjellin-Elder and Jeff Elder, Marc Walters, Paul Swerdlove and Elgart Aster, Michelle Finney, Edward and Marie Lewis, Trina Turk, Loren Ostrow, LuAnn Boylan, Jerry Keller, David Zippel and Michael Johnston, Jim Burba and Bob Hayes, Steve Kaufer and Young Chu, Mark Hamilton and Juan Francisco, Steve Rose, Glen Pietradoni, Omar Elkabchi, Bryan Garcia, Jason Cunningham, Patrick McDonald, Ethylina Canne, Susan Stein, Neil Cohen, Peter Daut
Sponsors of the 26th Annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards
PRODUCING: Harold Matzner, Walgreens
MAJOR: Elgart Aster & Paul Swerdlove, Desert Care Network, Desert Sun, Eisenhower Health, El Paseo Jewelers, Grace Helen Spearman Foundation, Living Out
STAR: Mark Adams, Steven Anders/The Elizabeth Firth Wade Endowment, Annette Bloch, Desert Oasis Healthcare, Here Media, Jean-Daniel Kermelly, NBC Palm Springs, Saks Fifth Avenue
SUPPORTING: Blackbook, Jim Burba & Bob Hayes, Diageo, Gilead Sciences, Lynn Hammond, Jerry Keller, Lauri & Charles Kibby, Garry Kief, Gilead Sciences, Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs / GRIT Development, Neil Lane Jewelers, Edward & Marie Lewis, LULU California Bistro, Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, UC Riverside School of Medicine, Marc Walters & Richard Cassar, Wells Fargo
BENEFACTOR: Anthem Blue Cross Medi-Cal, Carolyn & Daniel Caldwell, Colleen Crowley & Jack Martin, Coachella Valley Health Personnel, Freehold Communities, Image360, Patrick Jordan, Kaiser Permanente Foundation, Koffi, Frank Kurland, Laboratory Corporation of America, Perry McKay, Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, Revive Wellness, Ann Sheffer & Bill Scheffler, Sysco Riverside, Vaso Bello Celebrations, Union Bank – Don Soucie, White Cross Pharmacy, 111 Wealth Management
PATRON: Carrie & Mark Babij, CASL Interpreting, Desert Insurance Solutions, Desert Hospital Outpatient Pharmacy, Jay Harness & Darci Daniels, Higher Ground, Ben Hu, Steve Kaufer & Young Chu, Brad Leathers, Maximum Security, James O’Reilly & Steven Pounders, MD, Robert O’Shaughnessy, Robert Seale & Jim Gilger. Steve Simoni & John Sacchi
MEDIA: CV Independent, Gay Desert Guide, HERE Media, LOCALE Magazine, Palm Springs Life, PromoHomo.TV, Rage Monthly, The Hollywood Times, The Standard Magazine
Photo Credit: Lani Garfield
Desert AIDS Project’s allies and supporters are humanitarians removing roadblocks to human potential.