Desert AIDS Project celebrates 30 years

dap 30 years

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - The Desert AIDS Project will celebrate 30 years Friday night with a big birthday party at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.

It's fight against AIDS transformed the Coachella Valley, providing thousands of people with support and medical care. 

"I was diagnosed in 1983," said Robert Conklin. "One of the first things that they would do after you were diagnosed they would put you in bereavement counseling, basically getting you ready to die."

Over 30 years later, Robert Conklin not only lives with AIDS but thrives thanks to the Desert AIDS Project.

"They intervene with those that say you can't and you will not and pretty much say you can and we are going to make sure you can," explains Conklin.

Conklin, who also volunteers, is one of 2300 people D.A.P. currently helps.

"AIDS is a very expensive illness, so having a foundation like this, that knows what we are going through to provide you resources, it is a godsend it's very needed," said Conklin.

It all started in 1984 with just a few volunteers. 

"It was really more about the support system so people weren't alone, they didn't die alone," said D.A.P. chief development officer Darrell Tucci.  

Now it's one of the most comprehensive HIV/AIDS services providers in the U.S.

"It's wonderful to see how much it's developed from a small kind of private back entrance, and now it's grown into this huge public agency that everybody knows about, it's kind of wonderful to be a witness to that," said D.A.P. community services manager Ray Robertson.

Millions of dollars of donations help provide medical and dental care, a private pharmacy, housing, even a community center all under one roof. 

"Get them out of the house, and get them active, get their minds going and get their hands going and laugh," said Robertson.

"It is no longer considered a gay disease as it was 20 or 30 years ago, so our demographics is always morphing, more women are in care, more children are in care and more heterosexual men and people of color," said Tucci.

With as much as the Desert AIDS Project has accomplished in the last 30 years there is still more work to be done.

"If we can find the few hundred people that we know by mathematics and statistics who are living here in the valley with HIV and who don't know it link them to care and make it such where they can no longer transmit the virus, we believe that is the beginning of the end," said Tucci.

The goal is to test everyone on the Coachella Valley in the next three years.  To get tested yourself, click here.

For more information on Friday night's event, click here. 

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