2 Men Talking
How DAP Health and Amazon came to form their powerful partnership
Words by Daniel Vaillancourt
The burgeoning collaboration between DAP Health and e-commerce, cloud computing, streaming, and AI behemoth Amazon was sparked just over a year ago when two influential leaders engaged in some meaningful conversation.
At the behest of a good pal, Amazon Head of Community Engagement for Southern California David Ambroz agreed to take a tour of DAP Health’s Palm Springs campus led by the nonprofit’s longtime CEO, David Brinkman. While Ambroz was no newcomer to the desert — he once upon a time owned a vacation home here, and has returned frequently to visit friends, showing a particular affinity for hot spots like Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea — his knowledge of the organization founded in 1984 as Desert AIDS Project was peripheral at best. Now he would get an intimate backstage look at all that makes the agency so universally admired.
“I walked onto campus, walked into the clinics, and was just blown away,” says Ambroz, who shares his story of spending his youth first in homelessness, then in foster care, in his recently published memoir, “A Placed Called Home.” “I was a kid who went to free clinics, and they did not look like this. As I walked around, I saw the dignity with which people were treated, which was akin to what you’d expect at the best hospitals. The other thing that struck me was that the whole person was treated. I just thought that was so beautiful. I remember so well, in my own life, having to struggle to find dental care, vision care, just basic primary care. The tour kept unfolding, each new wing unfolding. But the pièce de résistance was when we walked outside, and I casually noted that DAP Health interestingly has an apartment complex abutting its property. And Brinkman said, ‘No. That’s ours.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
At the time of his site visit, Ambroz was very new to Amazon, having spent more than a decade in a similar role at The Walt Disney Company. “I had an incredible run at Disney,” he says. “But when I looked out at the horizon and thought about what is that next step — where can I stretch and learn and grow, and what company is doing the kind of scripting that makes me passionate — there were very few places you could compare to Amazon. I was very excited when the opportunity arose, and I went after it.”
Immediately after meeting Brinkman, Ambroz knew that it was in all parties’ interests for Amazon to support DAP Health. And thus, the company signed on as the presenting sponsor of the 2022 Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards. Amazon was back at The Chase this year, at the same level of support, albeit as platinum sponsor (with Eisenhower Health serving as presenting sponsor).
“One of the best methods to support communities is not to come in and dictate solutions, but to find the folks who are doing the great work, or have great ideas, or have achieved great results, and listen and learn, then support,” says Ambroz of the community engagement philosophy he and his employer share. “That’s how I’ve approached my role in the region. Identify organizations and individuals, then see how we fit into that puzzle. Sometimes it’s philanthropy of product. Sometimes it’s volunteerism. Sometimes it’s monetary. Sometimes it’s partnership in hiring.”
Ambroz is supremely thankful that, in Amazon, he has found a safe space to effect change in areas that most matter to him on a personal level. “I was homeless for 12 years, and then I went into foster care,” he says. “Both of those periods in my life were really brutal. And when I think back on the needs my family and I had, one of the things that most haunted me was the constant insecurity surrounding access to food. Every day, food — and shelter — but really food.”
Just some of the other local charitable organizations Ambroz encouraged Amazon to support include Palm Springs Unified School District, College of the Desert, the Cathedral City Boys and Girls Club, FIND Food Bank, and Feeding America Riverside | San Bernardino. “We were so proud of our partnership with ‘Feed SoCal,’ which was an employee-driven food drive inside all our facilities in partnership with FIND Food Bank and Feeding America,” he says. “More than 40 of our facilities and retail locations participated. This work struck a chord with our employees who wanted to give back to their communities. That’s one community engagement effort of which I’m particularly proud.”
In Brinkman and DAP Health, Ambroz feels he’s found a someone and a somewhere that share many of his and Amazon’s leadership principles. “This idea of customer obsession and working backward from the needs of your customers into what you must do to deliver those needs,” he stresses. “I was listening to David and thinking, ‘You could be an Amazon executive.’ I was so struck by his insight, ‘How can a person be medically compliant when they’re homeless?’ Boy did that reach into my heart and give it a squeeze.”
Ambroz further describes how he sees DAP Health not just looking around the corner, but around corners, plural, each of which have corners of their own. “I was so struck by that future-thinking mindset,” he continues. “I don’t think it’s usual for a nonprofit to flex that muscle so substantially as they face the immediate needs of the day. And then, for DAP Health to have the full buy-in at all levels of government and the community speaks not just to success, but to diplomacy and engagement, which are other aspects we value tremendously at Amazon.”
As for last year’s The Chase itself, Ambroz remembers having a fantastic time. “We had three gorgeous tables, and volunteers from the Glamazons, our LGBTQ employee affinity group, as ambassadors and escorts. Oh, and I spent way too much at the silent auction!”
Ambroz says that over the last year, as he’s attended other health centers around the country, he’s mentioned DAP Health as a shining example of how to do things right. “The organization has become my north star in terms of doing the good work we hope to do with community engagement,” he says. “So, when David came back and was talking about The Chase for 2023, it was really a no-brainer to get behind this event and this organization. And what I would say is that this platinum sponsorship is one of our biggest investments in the region philanthropically, reflecting commensurately the impact DAP Health makes.”
And so, Ambroz and Amazon hope to continue their support of DAP Health, especially now that the organization’s acquisition of Borrego Health will see its number of patients served annually swell to more than 120,000, including women and children.
“The hell I went through is nothing we should duplicate in any child in this country or anywhere,” concludes Ambroz. “The fire that forged me should never have been lit, both in the brutality of the homelessness, with a near complete lack of access to health care, and the systemic problems I experienced in the child welfare system. I would say the innate thing we all need to do is close our eyes and imagine a system we’d want to put our own children through, and that’s really what we should work to develop. Together.”