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Where Did All This Peanut Allergy Come F …

Where Did All This Peanut Allergy Come From?

Words by Ellen Bluestein

 

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, as of 2017, 2.5% of children in the United States have peanut allergy. While that percentage may seem small, it translates to more than 1.8 million kids with a potentially fatal condition. 

 

“Probably about 20 years ago, it was clear that this was not only a growing problem, but it had already become a public health problem in the United States and around the world,” says Dr. Andrew Liu, a pediatric allergist at the University of Colorado. “I don’t know that we’re sure why or how peanut allergy has become so prevalent. But I think it’s pretty clear that it’s real.”

 

Researchers have been exploring several possible hypotheses. One — the hygiene theory — explores the idea that with the advent of germ-killing cleaning products, our environments no longer provide the exposure to microbes that the immune system recognizes and learns to fight off.

 

“What is a microbe-rich environment? One where we’re living around a lot of animals,” says Dr. Liu. “There have been a lot of studies where it looks like allergies are less common in kids growing up in farming environments or in developing nations where people live very closely to their animals. Some people think … that the immune system doesn’t see enough of those microbial exposures early because we’ve gone and cleaned up our environment.”

 

Early exposure to peanuts — between four and six months of age — may be one way to reduce the allergy. “The original observation was in Israel, where they had this teething cracker called Bamba which has peanut in it,” says Dr. Liu. “And they observed that within communities where this was a common cultural practice, the prevalence of peanut allergy in the kids was really low compared to what they were seeing in other communities.”

 

This led to more research and ultimately a definitive study on prevention. Children were given Bamba or a derivative, and then followed. Those who received the cracker were unlikely to develop peanut allergy compared to those who didn’t get it. “It looked like early exposure … when our bodies are learning about what is safe … is an essential time period,” says Dr. Liu. “If the immune system learns that the peanut is not something to be concerned about, then that stays.”

 

While there is still much to be discovered, Dr. Liu is optimistic that there will be remedies for those who suffer from the life-threatening condition. “There’s work going on to develop treatments to either reduce or prevent the severe reactions to those who are peanut allergic,” he says. “There continues to be investment in a lot of research … to try to get to that place where there are treatments that can be helpful for people and young kids who are allergic.”

The Science of Positivity

The Science of Positivity

“Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” — Michael Jordan

Words by Kay Kudukis

 

In the 1990s, a recurring skit on SNL called “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley” had Al Franken portraying an insecure, support group-addicted, self-help schlub in a cardigan. He was the antithesis of the popular, flashy, mindset gurus like Tony Robbins. Stuart would frequently look at himself in the mirror and say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and, doggone it, people like me.”

Although Franken was poking fun at the new fad, it wasn’t very new. Over 3,000 years ago, the Greeks were writing meditations and guidelines touting the best ways to live. The idea is actually 5,000 years old, but back then there was no alphabet, which made writing hard.

By the 1800s, poets and renowned authors were onto it, but scientists didn’t take notice until the 1970s, when they asked, “Is there anything to this?” It took a few decades, and a lot of studies, but the answer is — in wildly unscientific terms — it’s definitely a thing. Turns out, there’s true power in the science of positivity!

Yes, science. The University of Chapel Hill conducts a Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory studying “how positive emotions affect people’s thinking patterns, social behavior, health, and physiological reactions.” Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic promote positive thinking to lower blood sugar and high blood pressure, and to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by lowering cortisol.

The human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, and yours is fueled by your thoughts. Ever heard that if you repeat a lie long enough it becomes the truth? If your brain is filled with negative self-chatter, it will come to believe it. If your inner monologue is positive, the brain responds, and your stress levels decrease along with your blood pressure.

There is another tool called “reframing” that makes you more productive. It’s where “I hate doing the dishes” becomes “I can’t wait to get these dishes done and have a nice clean sink.” Such positivity releases dopamine and serotonin into your system, and if you add a smile? Well, a study at the University of Kansas concluded that smiling is such a powerful source of endorphins that your stress levels go down even when you fake a smile. So now you’ve got a buzzy cocktail of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins in you, and the dishes are done.

If you need a little extra help, DAP Health is here for you. Its medical professionals won’t do your dishes, but they do have some unique Wellness Services, including a Zoom group based on positivity and related to achieving goals.

Michael Jordan didn’t get to be the GOAT by talent alone. In fact, he attributes his success to positive thinking. He never told himself he couldn’t. “I can accept failure,” he famously said. “Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

So be like Michael. Flip that switch. It’s not going to make you a great basketball player, but you’ll absolutely, positively, win at this game we call life.

DAP Health Unveils Details of Its 2024 S …

DAP HEALTH UNVEILS DETAILS OF ITS 2024 STEVE CHASE HUMANITARIAN AWARDS

Legendary entertainer Barry Manilow donates his performance. Nine local honorees jointly receive the Community Legacy Award. Desert Care Network is presenting sponsor.

 

Humanitarians of all stripes are in for an electrifying evening indoors at the Palm Springs Convention Center on Saturday, March 30 as DAP Health celebrates its 40th anniversary at its biggest fundraiser of the year, the 30th Annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards (AKA The Chase), presented by Desert Care Network.

Internationally heralded solid gold hitmaker Barry Manilow — the Grammy-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning longtime Palm Springs resident who celebrates his seventh decade in show business in 2024 — will donate his performance to the internationally heralded DAP Health in honor of the organization’s four decades of lifesaving work.

This year’s Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards not only pay tribute to DAP Health’s long legacy of protecting and expanding health care access for the most vulnerable among us but recognize nine honorees who represent every community member who has helped fulfill DAP Health’s mission since it was founded as Desert AIDS Project by Palm Springs volunteers in 1984.

The joint recipients of the 2024 Community Legacy Award are:

  • Mark Adams
  • Frank Figueroa
  • Keisha Halverson (AKA Keisha D.)
  • Patrick Jordan
  • Terri Ketover
  • Michael Kiner
  • Andy Linsky
  • Tori St. Johns
  • Susan Unger

Gala Chair Kevin Bass promises that this year’s Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards will be bigger and better than ever — a memorable, inspiring evening that will boldly underline DAP Health’s remarkable past, present, and future as it takes its unique place on the Southern California health care landscape.

Also of note will be the live auction, with longtime DAP Health supporters El Paseo Jewelers and Hot Purple Energy both donating packages worth $40,000 in honor of DAP Health’s 40 years of service.

Tickets can be purchased at daphealth.org/thechase

ABOUT

DAP Health’s goal is to protect and expand health care access for all people regardless of who or where they are, their health status, or whether they have health insurance. In 2023, the nonprofit (founded by community volunteers in 1984 as Desert AIDS Project) made a successful bid to absorb the Borrego Health system, enabling 1,000 health care professionals to serve a total of more than 100,000 patients of all populations, genders, and ages — from newborns to seniors — at a total of 25 Southern California clinics located within 240 rural and urban zip codes from the Coachella Valley to the San Diego coast.

Barry Manilow is a world-renowned, award-winning singer-songwriter who has captivated audiences with his timeless music for the last seven decades. Beyond his considerable show business achievements, the Grammy-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning Manilow is actively involved in philanthropy, having supported various charitable causes throughout his career. Time and time again, he has stepped up as a major benefactor on behalf of DAP Health. His charitable endeavors are proof positive of a commitment to making a profound impact beyond the stage, further solidifying his legacy as both a musical icon and a compassionate humanitarian.

Mark Adams has been a central figure at The Chase, having chaired the event in 2001 and 2002. His commitment to DAP Health extends beyond the gala, as evidenced by his generous donation toward the acquisition of the Barbara Keller LOVE Building on the organization’s Sunrise campus in Palm Springs. Adams is deeply involved in cultural boards, including that of the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs International Film Society. His involvement with DAP Health dates to the mid-1990s, showcasing a longstanding commitment to community well-being.

Dr. Frank Figueroa, the first openly gay elected official in the city of Coachella, has emerged as a trailblazer and advocate for inclusivity, making a profound impact in the eastern Coachella Valley. Previously having served on the Borrego Health board of trustees, Dr. Figueroa is a current DAP Health board member with a decade of experience in higher education administration. His history of prioritizing equal access to educational opportunities embodies values of integrity and compassion as he strives for positive change and serves as a beacon of hope in building an inclusive community.

Keisha Halverson (AKA Keisha D.) — a multifaceted figure in the Coachella Valley — has not only captivated audiences with her soulful voice but has also become an example of strength and resilience. In the face of personal challenges, including a health journey with lupus, she has continued her philanthropic efforts, creating the Keisha D. Music Scholarship to support high school seniors pursuing their passion. Her unwavering commitment to education and community well-being reflects her enduring impact as a singer, philanthropist, and beacon of strength.

Patrick Jordan is a dedicated AIDS activist, having contributed significantly to organizations such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Treatment Action Group, and notably, Desert AIDS Project/DAP Health. With a decade-long service on the DAP Health board of directors, including four years as chair, Jordan is a tireless advocate for health causes.

Terri Ketover, the founder of the “Do the Right Thing” program, which spans 65 cities globally, has been recognized by the White House. Her philanthropic journey includes nine years on the DAP Health board of directors, chairing the organization’s 100 Women major donor program, receiving the 2014 Steve Chase Humanitarian Award, and earning the 2023 JFK "Person of Valor" Award. Her unwavering commitment to giving back extends to roles with Palm Springs Art Museum, the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, Boys & Girls Club, and more.

Michael Kiner is a prominent figure in the Coachella Valley, showcasing not only his award-winning expertise in commercial and residential architecture but his compassion for giving back by contributing his leadership to organizations such as The Living Desert, Desert Cancer Foundation, and DAP Health, where he served as a board member in the ’80s.  He chaired the inaugural Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards in 1994 and the inaugural Desert AIDS Walk, further solidifying his commitment to community involvement.

Andy Linsky’s commitment to community service in Palm Springs spans over three decades, beginning in 1989 when he volunteered at DAP's front desk before joining its board of directors in 1990. Leading the board for five years, Linsky played a pivotal role in significant achievements, including the purchase of the building at 1695 North Sunrise Way, and the development of affordable housing complex Vista Sunrise I. His visionary leadership also led to the creation of the Partners For Life major donor program.

Tori St. Johns, a licensed therapist with 32 years at the Desert Sands Unified School District, is a dedicated advocate for the community, with a particular focus on LGBTQ+ students. Her service extends beyond education, with longstanding contributions to DAP Health and various boards, emphasizing her commitment to community health and well-being. She volunteered her services to HIV/AIDS patients at the height of the epidemic, demonstrating her history of dedication to providing vital support to those she serves.

Susan Unger, a key figure in DAP Health's success, served on its board of directors from 2003 to 2008, contributing significantly to crucial initiatives. Notably, in 2008, she founded the groundbreaking 100 Women major donor program, engaging women in supporting DAP Health’s work. Susan’s diverse contributions include leading client focus groups, introducing the Building Connections initiative, and directing the successful Get Tested Coachella Valley public health initiative.

SPONSORS

PRESENTING SPONSOR

Desert Care Network

PRODUCING SPONSORS

Amazon

Harold Matzner

MAJOR SPONSORS

Kevin Bass and Brent Bloesser

Jim Burba and Bob Hayes

Patrick Jordan

Scot and Lance Karp

Barry Manilow and Garry Kief

Steve Tobin and the Grace Helen Spearman Charitable Foundation

STAR SPONSORS

The Hammond Family Foundation

Walgreens

SUPPORTING SPONSORS

Carolyn and Daniel Caldwell

Anthony Colantino and Craig Grantham

Bruce W. Finch and Keith Reimann

Eve E. Fromberg-Edelstein, Esq.

Gilead

Living Out

Steven Anders

The Stonewall Group/Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

Trina Turk

David Zippel and Michael Johnston

BENEFACTOR SPONSORS

Coachella Valley Health Personnel

Diageo

Perry S. McKay

PATRON SPONSORS

Inland Empire Health Plan

Low Income Investment Fund

Palm Springs Disposal Services

Personal Stories Project

Henry Schein

UPS Stores

MEDIA SPONSORS  

Alpha Media

CV Independent

Desert Charities News

Gay Desert Guide

GED Magazine

Joey English Radio

Palm Springs Life

The Desert Sun/Local IQ

The Standard Magazine

THE CHASE GALA COMMITTEE

Kevin Bass (Chair)

Michael Brennan

Ron Davis

Grant Elder

Bruce W. Finch

Lynn Hammond

Cary Lowe

Rick Moran

Kasey Scott-Brown

David Sperber

 

Lonely No More

Lonely No More

Words by Ron Blake

 

According to an advisory issued by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on May 3, 2023, loneliness and isolation are a public health crisis — one causing devastating consequences for approximately half of the adults in this country.  

Evidence shows that increased social connectivity can combat this emergency, effectively reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and premature death for all Americans, including DAP Health patients. Surgeon General Murthy is therefore encouraging folks to cultivate a culture of connection, using no-cost medicine that’s all around us: people. He wants us to go out and engage with each other. 

And I’m here to be that loving nudge — to tell you it can be done, to get you moving in the right direction — by sharing a heartwarming success story that will hopefully inspire you to achieve a healthier life with no more seclusion.   

A 27-minute, Emmy-nominated documentary — The Blake Project on YouTube — was produced about my story. It highlights the significance of developing social connections.

But let me back up. I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression following a brutal rape and beating I experienced at the hands of three men. I isolated badly after that trauma. But an unexpected moment of laughter from “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” stopped me from dying by suicide at 10:44 p.m. on November 2, 2015. That heaven-sent disruption was the spark that ignited my very own Hero’s Journey, a particular kind of expedition and familiar literary theme that’s used in classic movies like “Star Wars,” “The Color Purple,” and “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s about answering a call to action, heading out on an adventure, facing down your fears, overcoming challenges, and then coming back home transformed and triumphant.  

I answered that comedic call to action from “The Late Show,” deciding to no longer isolate, and going out on my riveting adventure each day to engage strangers. By my being vulnerable with them about my trauma, something wonderful happened. People began opening up to me about their own personal ordeals and achievements, and we connected through our shared stories of heartbreak and happiness. 

Those strangers also got behind my mission to guest on “The Late Show” someday, where I will share the healing power of laughter and of making social connections. Through these new friends, I found a purpose in life.

Going out for 2,984 consecutive days on this ongoing cross-country hero’s journey, I have so far engaged 32,777 strangers, one by one. I also gave them a canvas to express themselves, and they contributed their words and images of support — in 94 languages on 502 giant foam boards via 27 colored Sharpie markers.  

Fingers crossed that someday soon I will be invited to deliver this massive, collective story of hope to Stephen Colbert on the air. To inform, entertain, and inspire millions of individuals to see that no one walks alone. 

I’ve come to realize that so many people in our DAP Health neighborhoods and communities care about one another. You are not alone. You are only one person and one conversation away from changing your life.  

So, this is your call to action. Answer it! Head out on your very own Hero’s Journey. You too can come back home transformed and triumphant over loneliness and isolation.  

Thankful Community Members Attend DAP He …

Thankful Community Members Attend DAP Health’s Third Annual Winterfest

Free food and entertainment were on offer alongside photos with Santa and gifts of toys, blankets, and bicycles for the children.

Almost 1,000 grateful community members from the East Valley — representing both current and future DAP Health patients — took part in Winterfest: The Third Annual Oasis Charitable Holiday Celebration, which was held on Saturday, December 16 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Centro Medico Oasis in Thermal.

In addition to featuring free food and entertainment, parents had their children take pictures with Santa before the kids received gifts of toys and blankets.

For the moms and dads in attendance — many of whom are migrant agricultural workers who may also be single and therefore the sole breadwinners in the family — the holidays are a joyful time, but also one of frustration and stress brought on by their inability to shower their children with treasures under the Christmas tree. Winterfest takes a very real burden off them, bringing smiles to every member of the family.

The open house, which took place predominantly outside, was made possible thanks to the generosity of community partners, volunteers, and DAP Health employees, many of whom helped raise the funds necessary to pull off the affair in grand style.

Taking care of emcee duties was Centro Medico Oasis Clinic Manager Israel Ochoa, who shared the stage with DAP Health CEO David Brinkman, Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz, DAP Health Board Member Dr. Frank Figueroa, patient Antonio Galara of the Coachella Unified School District, and Samuel Lopez of Iglesia Visión Del Reino.

In addition to mobile clinic vans providing free testing plus flu and COVID-19 immunizations, community partners such as TODEC Legal Center, ER Funeral, Visión 7 Copromiso, FIND Food Bank, the Alzheimer’s Association, DPSS Adult Services, and California Rural Legal Assistance set up booths and answered attendees’ questions.

Entertainment was provided by the Oasis Elementary ACES and the Iglesia Visión Del Reino band. At a total of five raffles held throughout the afternoon, some 65 bicycles were given away to lucky winners.

“Do you know what’s better than seeing the beautiful face of a happy child receiving a toy, a blanket, and a bike at the holidays?” asked Brinkman of the 457 adults and 471 children in attendance. “Seeing hundreds of beautiful faces of happy children receiving a toy, a blanket, and a bike at the holidays! Look around you! And bask in the warmth of those smiles. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who helped make Winterfest a smashing success.”

DAP Health Opens Third Free Sexual Welln …

DAP Health Opens Third Free

Sexual Wellness Clinic

 

Joining existing clinics in Palm Springs and Indio, the latest facility — headquartered at Stonewall Medical Center in Cathedral City — will emphasize services for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, including those seeking gender-affirming navigation and care.

 

On Tuesday, December 12, DAP Health will officially open the doors to its third free sexual wellness clinic, this latest outpost to be headquartered at Stonewall Medical Center, located at 68555 Ramon Road in Cathedral City.

Thanks to the nonprofit’s absorption of the Borrego Health system almost six months ago, its capacity to provide sexual health services to women and to LGBTQ+ people (including those seeking gender-affirming navigation and care) has vastly increased.

DAP Health’s first such clinic was originally known as The Dock when it debuted within the Barbara Keller LOVE Building on the organization’s Sunrise campus in Palm Springs in 2015.

The Dock was renamed the Orange Clinic in January 2023, when it relocated to the newly renovated, former county structure now known as the Annette Bloch CARE Building, across the way from the LOVE Building.

A second sexual wellness clinic, in Indio, was unveiled in July 2022. The two present clinics currently serve almost 1,100 patients per month.

Sexual health is of prime import to DAP Health. Just some of the organization’s achievements in this area include:

  • The Dock initially charging a flat fee of $125 for those without insurance, a significant step in increasing access. All sexual wellness clinics now offer most HIV and STI testing, and related services, at no cost.
  • Its June 2020 licensing of a mobile medical unit for STI testing.
  • Its July 2021 establishment of free sexual wellness services.
  • Its 2023 Creativity & Innovation Award, from the Inland Empire Health Plan, for its 2022 mpox response.
  • Its 2023 Center for Quality Improvement & Innovation Quality Award for Leadership in Quality Improvement of its Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.
  • A partnership with gay dating app Mistr to provide statewide virtual PrEP and virtual HIV care.
  • The reduction in wait times so that anyone with HIV — or anyone wanting to start PrEP — can obtain medication within 72 hours.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) recent announcement of the recipients of its 2023 Community Health Quality Recognition (CHQR) badges, which recognize outstanding health center performance in a variety of clinical areas, including behavioral health, maternal health, cancer screening, and HIV prevention and care, as well as overall quality performance. DAP Health was one of eight health centers recognized, in the HIV prevention and care category. 

In the nine months since its opening, the Orange Clinic has had:

  • 6,403 patient visits.
  • Almost 500 people started on PrEP for the prevention of HIV.
  • Almost 1,500 people treated for one or more STIs.

“With DAP Health’s free sexual wellness clinics in Palm Springs and Indio at capacity, there clearly was sufficient patient demand to support a third location,” says DAP Health Chief of Community Health C.J. Tobe. “When we factor in the continued rise of sexually transmitted infections, duplicating our Orange Clinic model — where a free sexual health clinic is located at the same site at which DAP Health provides ongoing general clinical services — simply makes sense.”

Formerly part of the Borrego Health system, Stonewall Medical Center has long provided quality and compassionate health care to both the LGBTQ+ community and members of the general population. Its infectious disease specialists focus on patients with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and STIs. Stonewall also provides transgender health care, PrEP and PEP HIV prevention, behavioral health, and dental services.

As is the case in Palm Springs and Indio, Cathedral City’s sexual wellness clinic at Stonewall will be open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break closure for staff between 11:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

All services will be free, and will include:

  • HIV / hepatitis C / STI testing.
  • STI treatment.
  • Pregnancy testing.
  • Birth control.
  • PrEP & PEP for HIV prevention.
  • Doxy PrEP and PEP for STI prevention.
  • A patient’s first two RapidStART visits once diagnosed with a new HIV infection.
  • The JYNNEOS vaccine to prevent mpox.

Serving on staff will be:

  • Director of Specialty Programs Dr. Jason Halperin, whose focus will be on gender-affirming care as well as on those living with, or at risk of, contracting HIV.
  • Director of Gender Health and Wellness Jacob Rostovsky.
  • Gender Health and Wellness Manager Mita Beach.
  • Gender Health and Wellness Navigator Mateo Williamson, who will provide linkage to gender-affirming care, and assistance with transportation, insurance, medication coverage, housing/wellness/food referrals, and other support.
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Brandi Teegarden.
  • Sexual Wellness Registered Nurse Jody Cap.
  • Licensed Vocational Nurse/Prescription Coordinator Tiffany Burdett.
  • Early Intervention and PrEP Specialist Alexis Rocha, who will provide linkage to care and support for HIV and hepatitis C patients, and assistance with transportation, insurance, medication coverage, housing/wellness/food referrals, and other support.
  • PrEP navigators who can provide help with transportation, insurance, medication coverage, housing/wellness/food referrals, and other support.
  • Patient Service Representative Jadira Hernandez, who will help with scheduling, take incoming phone calls, and facilitate patient check-in and checkout.

“It’s always all about access,” continues Tobe. “Having a new free sexual wellness clinic provides folks in and around the Cathedral City area a place closer to home where they can access no-barrier, no-red-tape, no-shame, and no-stigma sexual wellness care.”

He adds: “While the sheer existence of this new sexual wellness clinic makes me very happy, I think I’m most excited to be able to offer a gender health and wellness team at Stonewall, whose lifesaving gender-affirming care navigation services will be entirely free and accessed through the new sexual wellness clinic as well.”

“Trans health care isn’t typical health care,” says Gender Health and Wellness Manager Mita Beach, who identifies as nonbinary and queer, in the just-released fall issue of DAP Health magazine. “Typically, when people go to the clinic, it’s because they’re sick or because they have to go once a year for a check-up.” But trans people often need to see a provider more frequently, especially if they are receiving gender-affirming hormone therapy, which needs to be monitored.

“People of trans experience and nonbinary communities have increased rates of HIV acquisition, especially those of color,” says Director of Specialty Programs Dr. Jason Halperin, in the same article. “We know that racism and stigma play the greatest role in driving these increased rates. Furthermore, when structures of power such as the police — or increasingly, legislatures — target and stigmatize communities, we will inevitably see worsening health outcomes due to exclusion.”

Halperin goes on to stress that DAP Health “must commit even more to this work. We must shine our light bright and far. Our clinics need to ensure easy and supportive accessibility to gender-affirming care. We must also continue to work in solidarity with those across our country.”

Those interested in making an appointment at Cathedral City’s new Stonewall sexual wellness clinic may call 760.969.5740.

He's Here

He’s Here

 

Chef, Restaurateur, And Community Leader Albert Gonzalez Has Come A Long Way To Give Back

 

Words by Daniel Hirsch • Photos by John Paschal

 

As a young person growing up in Indio, Albert Gonzalez didn’t think there were other gay people like him in the Coachella Valley. Much like to the desert itself, the intervening years have brought incredible transformation to Gonzalez’s life. He’s emerged as an essential leader in the region’s LGBTQ+ community. 

Along with his partner in business and life, Willie Rhine, Gonzalez co-owns Palm Springs’ Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge. A self-taught pastry chef, he now runs the kitchen. Eight4Nine has frequently hosted events for organizations such as DAP Health and the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, given in-kind donations to numerous local charities, and even provided meal deliveries to first responders and older adults during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gonzalez and Rhine have also given back through philanthropy. They participate in DAP Health’s major donor program Partners for Life, are Angels at AIDS Assistance Program – Food Samaritans, and contribute to the Center as longtime Ocotillo members. Since 2019, Gonzalez has also been on the Center’s board of directors. To top it all off, he’s worked 100 volunteer hours at DAP Health’s Revivals Thrift Store, and been a frequent volunteer at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter.

Gonzalez’s personal philosophy of service is a simple one, described as “the conundrum where you have to give it away in order to keep it.”

Giving back to the communities he’s been a part of includes his community of origin. With Gonzalez’s involvement on its board, the Center has amped up its programing in the East Valley by offering new programs to LGBTQ+ young people. 

“He’s just got this incredibly kind, wonderful spirit,” says former Center Executive Director and CEO Rob Wheeler. “If we’re struggling with something, Albert is one of the first people we reach out to.”

For Gonzalez, his current abundance didn’t always seem likely. It meant detaching from his close-knit family of origin, getting sober, and teaching himself how to cook from a discount Betty Crocker cookbook. “Growing up here in the valley, I didn’t have an idea of where to go, what goals to have in life,” he says. “Today my life is very different, it’s beyond my wildest dreams.”

Breaking the Bubble

Gonzalez describes his upbringing in Indio in the 1980s and ’90s as “a bubble.” When the 43-year-old was young, his part of the East Valley hadn’t experienced the economic prosperity felt elsewhere. To Gonzalez, it was isolated and remote.

“I grew up very conservative,” he says. “Going to church basically alienated everybody around us.”

Gonzalez is the second eldest of four children of working-class parents — a landscaper and an office administrator — whose own parents immigrated to the city of Thermal from Mexico. Gonzalez’s folks broke off from the rest of the extended family when they left the Catholic church and became members of a born-again, Apostolic church.

From an early age, Gonzalez knew he was gay. As an active member in his conservative church, it tormented him even as he served as youth president and choir director. During pastors’ sermons declaring gay acts as sin, Gonzalez prayed that nobody would notice he was different. At school, some did notice, and he fended off bullying from a young age. “There’s always that sense of loneliness,” he says. “And then, given my background, that I grew up with the church, that only exacerbated it.”

It wasn’t until he was 20 that Gonzalez interacted with out gay people. Working as an office assistant at the Riverside County Department of Mental Health, he met his friend and future mentor Damon Jacobs, a psychotherapist and early PrEP proponent who has worked with DAP Health. When Jacobs invited him to a birthday party in Palm Springs, Gonzalez’s sheltered existence cracked open. 

“I felt at home,” Gonzalez says. “I felt that these are my people… Yet I never knew about it, just living 30 minutes away.”

Circle K to Cartier

With Jacobs’ help, Gonzalez moved out of his parents’ home and relocated to Palm Springs. To his surprise, his parents accepted his sexuality and choice to leave Indio, but that didn’t mean being out and independent came easy. “We are raised with that fear of sex,” he says. “We don’t get to experience it in a healthy way.” 

Drug use, alcohol abuse, and more than a few unhealthy romantic and sexual relationships consumed Gonzalez’s early 20s. At age 25, he started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and worked to get sober. (Gonzalez will celebrate 17 years of sobriety in
October 2023.)

Around this time, a chance encounter with Rhine forever altered his path. Gonzalez isn’t shy about sharing how and where they met: They locked eyes outside of a Circle K and went home together soon thereafter. This casual encounter blossomed into a romantic relationship that ultimately transformed into a committed life partnership. To mark their commitment, Gonzalez and Rhine bought each other Cartier bracelets; Gonzalez jokes that if he ever writes a memoir, it would be titled “From Circle K to Cartier.”

“The words that come to mind when I think of Albert: kind, passionate, stubborn, lovable,” says Rhine, adding: “Did I say stubborn?”

Rhine saw that stubbornness in action in the early days of their relationship. At the time, he was general manager of Lulu California Bistro. When Gonzalez, who was still working at the Department of Mental Health, expressed interest in restaurant work, Rhine hired him as maître d’. Working in restaurants ignited something in Gonzalez that came to full fruition when the couple went shopping at a gift shop one Sunday afternoon. That day, Gonzalez purchased the aforementioned Betty Crocker cookbook. 

Seeing Gonzalez pick up the cookbook, Rhine was initially dismissive. “My response was, ‘Why are you buying that? It’s a waste of money. You don’t bake. You’ll never use it,’” he recalls. But Gonzalez, whose only gastronomic experience was watching cooking shows on TV, insisted on buying it. From that first cookbook and more to come — plus a few classes at the Culinary Institute of America — Gonzalez taught himself to bake. Occasionally sharing cakes with friends turned into a full-fledged passion. His confections soon grew more and more refined. By the time Rhine opened Eight4Nine in 2015, Gonzalez had become the ideal pastry chef. 

Back to the East Valley

When the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert partnered with the nonprofit Alianza to open a youth center in the East Coachella Valley, both organizations knew their own leadership needed to reflect the largely Latino and immigrant communities they hoped to serve. As an emerging leader in the LGBTQ+ community — not to mention an Indio native — Gonzalez was an obvious choice to join the board.

“Albert is able to pull from his own experience growing up as a young person in Indio,” says Wheeler. “He helped us think about the right questions we should be asking when we were thinking about need, about what issues young people might be facing in the East Valley.”

Opened in 2016, the Center Eastern Coachella Valley is a youth-driven, LGBTQ+-affirming space situated in downtown Coachella. It hosts support groups, workshops, and social events as well as offers programing to local high schools that addresses youth mental health and uplifts queer people. It’s the kind of place that didn’t exist for Gonzalez when he was growing up in the area. But also, by being involved in its operation and showing up for its programming, Gonzalez has become the kind of person he never knew existed when he was young.

DAP Health Director of Brand Marketing and longtime friend Steven Henke describes Gonzalez as a “north star” for young people in the valley. “Anyone can look at the life he’s created and learn from it,” he says.

For Gonzalez, returning to his old home is both inspiring and daunting. “When I go back to Indio, there’s still that fear … the homophobia is still there,” he says. “Hopefully, through the Center, we can educate individuals that we are here … and we’re not evil, we’re not bad!”

Recently, Gonzalez had such a chance to educate. He joined Wheeler in the car parade of the 2021 East Coachella Valley Pride Festival — only the fifth year of its existence. Driving through the streets of Coachella, seeing all the rainbow flags and people cheering in support, it was clear his old home had changed — and so had he.

Hope & Triumph

Hope & Triumph

 

Damian Calmett offers endless inspiration at DAP Health and beyond 

 

Words by Greg Archer • Photo by Zach Ivey • Creative Director Snap Studios Ryan Auble

 

As the sun shines vibrantly outside DAP Health, inside the main building, things are just as bright. That’s because Damian Calmett is waiting to greet people as they arrive. The cheery 73-year-old resident of Vista Sunrise, DAP Health’s affordable housing complex, is full of wide-eyed optimism. Clearly, the man loves being the organization’s chief greeter and safety monitor. On any given day, Calmett helps people find their way around, and even offers compassion or bits of life wisdom from time to time. 

A ray of sunshine? That’s Damian Calmett.

“What’s important to remember is that DAP Health is a place where people come at various levels of their health,” he says. “You may be the only light somebody sees that day, or the only person they encounter because many people are shut-ins. So, if you can make their day a little lighter for five minutes, great. Then you’ve done a wonderful service.”

Calmett knows about the “light.” Because he’s spent a lot of time emerging from the dark. The multi-faceted yet unpretentious soul is somebody you’d want to know, and he swims deep emotional waters, waxing philosophical with ease: “I believe within each of us is a homing device that is good; we were born with it, and it leads us to a power bigger than us.” 

In the next breath, he may be brutally honest about his own journey: “I’m no stranger to homelessness, hopelessness, or hope, either. Or saying, ‘What is the lesson in this for me?’ Rather than, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So, when I see people come into DAP Health, for me, it’s an opportunity to give hope.”

Calmett knows a lot about that. He had to rely on hope — even when he lost all signs of it — before he came on board at DAP Health in September 2021. And that’s where Calmett’s life story — a tale of heartbreak and triumph — becomes even more fascinating to explore. 

Damian Calmett was born Stephen Bruce Ford in Salinas, California on January 30, 1950. Several days after his birth, the child’s mother left him, and he went to live with his paternal grandparents in nearby Castroville. Calmett says he got “saved” at their church when he was 2. Then his mother returned and took him back with her to Los Angeles, where they moved into a trailer with a man she’d been seeing, Willie. 

“He was rough and tough, a ‘man’s man,’” Calmett shares. “What Willie said, you did. I was only 2 or 3 at the time, and more than anything, I thought I was going to die because he often waved a gun around and was drunk and acted like a crazy man.” 

Calmett’s mother worked at a nearby bar. One time, when she wasn’t home, Willie “put the gun [with one bullet] in my rectum and proceeded to pull the trigger. I was terrified and probably also in shock. He had been abusive before, and each time the abuse got worse.”

What followed was a nightmarish labyrinth for any human to walk through. When Willie left for good, Calmett’s mother didn’t hang around much longer, and the child was tossed around from home to home.

First, there was Shirley and her husband, and their four children, in a single-wide trailer, where, Calmett says, “we ate hot dogs every day for almost three months, and I slept in the hall closet.” When the family abandoned him, he spent three days alone — or three weeks, he cannot remember — until a man name George, who frequented the bar where Calmett’s mother worked, arrived with his wife. The couple took the boy with them to Grants Pass, Oregon, but Calmett had shut down emotionally and quit speaking. He was given a new name, George Jr., but something ominous always lurked in the shadows.

George drank and always fought with his wife. When he disappeared, Calmett was taken in by the couple’s friends and was given yet another name — Richard. Eventually, he went to live with his maternal grandmother, Mary, and her husband Earl, in Compton, California. Earl was a gunslinger, which brought up disturbing memories of Willie. Somewhere in between, Calmett had to learn how to speak again, and when his paternal grandparents found him, he returned to Castroville, shaken, distraught, and full of trust issues.

“As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be someone else,” Calmett once shared. “I have never been comfortable in my own skin.”

Then fate stepped in… 

Years later, having coped and dealt with tremendous psychological maelstroms, Calmett was asked to be one of the Gospel singers at an Oakland concert. Inspired by the performers, he found something that had been missing — himself. Could he, in fact, be as free-spirited as some of the entertainers around him? Something shifted within. Calmett legally changed his name to Damian — just Damian — and went on to perform worldwide in several mediums, hope and perseverance becoming major throughlines in his life. 

Inspired to delve inward, he attended Oral Roberts University and at times, sang as a soloist on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “The PTL Club.” “I knew Tammy Faye,” he recalls. “She was genuinely naïve, and her eyes were full of love. But those long lashes were simply her armor against people getting close to her.” 

When he took a position as associate pastor at a Southern California church, pressure mounted — all the other pastors had wives. The writing was on the wall. “My marriage to my wife, Kathy, was more or less an arranged marriage. I hosted a television program called ‘This Is Your Life,’ and Kathy’s parents saw me on TV and drove 100 miles to meet me.”

That was around 1985. Eventually, Calmett left the church — and his marriage to Kathy — and moved to San Diego’s Hillcrest area. “I had difficulty fitting into the gay world,” he admits. “Things were awkward for me. I was about 34, and I didn’t get why the leather guys didn’t want to associate with the drag queens, the bears, otters, lipstick lesbians, and dykes. For a community claiming to be so inclusive, well, it was anything but.”

One Halloween, he dressed in girls’ clothes. “I felt pretty and got attention,” he says, adding, “I never felt handsome as a man. As strange as it might sound, there was a sense of realness I felt [dressing up]. It was natural for me. In 1992, I had three titles — Mayor of Hillcrest, Mr. Gay San Diego, and Miss Gay San Diego.”

A stronger sense of self emerged. So did another personality: Ivana. 

“For so long, I was just ‘Ivana,’” Calmett says of his famous alter ego. “I opened for Joan Rivers once, and let’s just say I drank a bit too much that night. Joan said, ‘Ivana, you’re just a tramp! Ivana Tramp. That’s who you are.’ The name stuck. I saw a different part of myself. Nobody ever referred to her [Ivana] as a drag performer, or as an impersonator. She was just who she was.”

Calmett performed as Ivana Tramp for nearly 20 years — from the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel in Las Vegas to the MGM Grand Sanya in China, and then some. “I realized that I’m more than one person,” he reflects.

Through the years, Calmett lived in Palm Springs several times, but when he returned to the Coachella Valley more than three years ago, he brought with him decades of life experience. He’d become an alcohol and drug counselor, and was a sober-living manager at one point. He also remarried between Ivana Tramp and Palm Springs, taking on the surname of his husband, David Calmett. Their marriage lasted about seven years. “Relationships aren’t the thing that I do best,” he says.

Still, Calmett used his latest move to Palm Springs to fuel a burning need: to instill hope. In addition to overseeing the welcome desk at DAP Health, he manages a 20–25 volunteer staff and makes sure everyone is trained on how to be “welcoming.” While he’s been a minister for many years, he recently became an Innerfaith minister. As Rev. Damian Calmett, he inspires hundreds of thousands online, and oversees a congregation at Innerfaith New Thought Spiritual Center Palm Springs. He says he’s ready to embrace what lies ahead, too, keeping in mind how he can best “serve.”

When asked what got him through the tough times, Calmett is candid: “We can either choose to go through challenges or grow through them. You don’t evolve, you unfold.

“I’ve had 10 lifetimes full of experiences,” he quickly adds. “I’ve met and worked with famous people. And I’ve met and worked with people who were in the gutter. These are all the same people. People are just people. I’m a survivor. So, I do what it takes to put one foot on the ground and the other foot forward … and just keep going.”

Learn more about Damian Calmett at damiancalmett.tv.

He Ain't Heavy

He Ain’t Heavy

Brothers of the Desert President Tim Vincent says the organization’s wellness summit allows gay Black men to connect to community and health

Words by Trey Burnette • Photo by Aaron Jay Young

The Coachella Valley likes to pride itself on diversity. However, attending community functions, programs, or gatherings could lead one to believe the desert community is less diverse than it considers itself to be.

At a 2017 New Year’s Eve gathering, a group of friends — all of whom were gay Black men — realized they all shared similar feelings of isolation and disconnection from much of the greater Palm Springs community. They knew men like them were out there, living productive lives, but they didn’t always see one another partaking in the many activities the valley had to offer. They felt isolated not only as individuals but also as a smaller community within the larger desert family.

Tim Vincent was one of those men at the party. To meet him, it’s hard to imagine he would feel isolated and disconnected from any community, but he says after moving to Palm Springs with his partner about six years ago, they had “the only people in the room” moments. At first, he didn’t notice it; he was used to being different. “But it can be hard being the only Black person in the room,” he says. Then he discovered others were experiencing the same feeling he and his partner were, and suspected there had to be more men he didn’t know out there facing the same feelings. 

The men were having a James Baldwin flash — the challenge was in the moment and the time was right. So, they acted by reaching out to the other gay African American men who felt isolated and disconnected, and formed Brothers of the Desert (BOD). Their mission was “to nurture and support gay Black men and allies through education, advocacy, social networking, volunteerism, and mentorship.” 

Today, Vincent serves as the president of the nonprofit, which was formalized as such in 2020. He has more than 30 years of experience working in the HIV and health care fields, including work with the CDC and the University of California San Francisco. His understanding of health care and patient engagement was beneficial as BOD grew and formed partnerships with DAP Health. 

Vincent explains that BOD started with monthly meetings where members could discuss concerns affecting them and the community. The leading members realized the community needed more than meetings, so they formed their first outfacing event, their Wellness Summit, in November of 2019, originally held at the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert. DAP Health became a sponsor in their third year.

“We were building and investing in the health and wellness of our community,” Vincent says. “We wanted to take a holistic and comprehensive approach, addressing community members’ physical, mental, spiritual, financial, and social health.” And they did. What the Wellness Summit offered was tailored to the needs of the Black community. They incorporated the intersection of being Black and gay and how the stressful effects of racism and homophobia affect the individual’s and community’s health. 

Four years later, the annual Wellness Summit has grown and is now held at Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs. DAP Health is still a sponsor, and the November 2022 summit had about 200 guests — twice the size of the first event. The Wellness Summit hosts speakers who are medical doctors, spiritual practitioners, business leaders, yoga instructors, and other experts offering education in their specialized fields. It creates a space where people feel comfortable asking wellness questions. Workshops are also available for guests to get hands-on experiences with wellness practices. Vincent has received positive feedback from attendees, and hopes the event will grow into a multi-day affair. 

BOD also provides a quarterly speaker series throughout the year. Guest lecturers are thought leaders and experts who give educational talks that support and maintain what is learned at the Wellness Summit. Participants can engage and discuss topics like mindfulness, systemic racism, microaggressions, and mental health for Black queer people. Furthermore, those chats also act as a gateway for BOD to steer members to DAP Health, where they can find similar wellness opportunities to the ones they learned about at the Wellness Summit. Acupuncture, yoga, massage, sex and intimacy groups, stress-management groups, and building-positive-life groups are just some of the opportunities attendees can take advantage of to maintain a holistic approach to wellness.

As the partnerships between BOD and DAP Health grow, Vincent hopes Black community members will deepen their knowledge that both organizations can help them find health resources and solutions.

For more information, please visit brothersofthedesert.org and follow the group on Insta @brothersofthedesert.

DAP Health Continues to Fight for LGBTQ+ …

DAP Health Continues to Fight for LGBTQ+ Health Equity

 At the 2023 Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival, the organization will celebrate its long history of championing health care access for the queer community.

As it has done since the first Greater Palm Springs Pride in 1986, DAP Health will raise its rainbow flags high in the air and proudly participate in the 37th annual iteration of the event, to be held November 2 to 5.

With the recent integration of Borrego Health, DAP Health’s team now consists of 850 dedicated health care professionals serving 100,000 diverse patients in 240 of Southern California’s rural and urban zip codes, from the Salton Sea to San Diego.

In addition to hosting its DAP Health Wellness Pavilion along Palm Canyon Drive (directly across the street from Lulu California Bistro) — from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 4 and from 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 5 — more than a hundred of the organization’s employees, patients, donors, volunteers, board members, and other supporters are expected to march shoulder to shoulder in the Sunday morning Pride Parade.

“Participating in Greater Palm Springs Pride is always a personal highlight of the fall season, not just for me, but for everyone who calls DAP Health home in one fashion or another,” says longtime CEO David Brinkman. “At DAP Health, we have always fought for the LGBTQ+ community, championing health care access for nearly four decades. Our acquisition of Borrego Health hasn’t weakened our commitment; it’s fortified our resolve.

“With our expanded size and reach, we pack a mightier punch in our quest for health care justice. Our unified voice, advocating for our communities alongside elected officials, is now louder than ever, and our team of dedicated care providers has grown threefold. We believe health care should know no boundaries. Our goal is to continue to honor the memory of those lost to HIV/AIDS by removing barriers, and by creating a more just world through equitable access.”

Employees from the nonprofit’s 25 clinics will carry signs emblazoned with the name of their home location. Others will carry placards sporting such slogans as “Mental Health is Health Care,” “LGBTQ+ Care is Health Care,” and “Drag is Love” (the catchphrase printed on DAP Health’s official 2023 Pride Parade T-shirt).

Riding in a vehicle just ahead of the group will be Donald Beck, one of the founders of Desert AIDS Project (as the nonprofit was originally known) who is this year’s recipient of Greater Palm Springs Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall Lifetime Achievement Award.

Loudly announcing DAP Health’s presence will be a large assortment of blue/robin’s egg, purple/lavender, and orange/red balloons respectively spelling out the D-A-P of the organization’s acronym and hoisted high above a banner that will read “Together for Better Health,” a nod to DAP Health recently absorbing the Borrego Health system.

Also part of the DAP Health delegation, riding in a vintage convertible in glorious full drag, will be Les Dames du Soleil Dottie & Maude (AKA Douglas Woodmansee and Marshall Pearcy). The tribute is designed to honor the longtime married couple of entertainers — who were at the forefront of early HIV/AIDS efforts, raising much-needed funds for DAP at the dawn of the epidemic, when other resources and supporters were scarce — for their vital role in DAP Health’s history of LGBTQ+ activism.

“Long before our community had the economic and political strength we now proudly possess, before the emergence of LGBTQ+ advocacy or health care organizations, drag queens were tirelessly raising funds for our cause, one dollar at a time,” says DAP Health Chief of Brand Marketing Steven Henke. “They courageously championed our rights and well-being until we found the strength to fight for ourselves. We should never forget the legacy they forged in high heels.”

As for the Wellness Pavilion, it will be staffed with employees and volunteers from DAP Health’s community health department, who will be providing full, free sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, harm reduction services, and general outreach. Representatives will also be talking with attendees about the free pregnancy testing and birth control consultations now available at its sexual wellness clinics.

The Pavilion will also be home to a Recovery Oasis, where revelers can pick up information about DAP Health’s host of recovery services, including various meetings and its Outpatient Drug-Free (ODF ) program.