DAP Health Gets Ready to Walk, Out Loud
On Saturday, October 29, 2022, DAP Health will host its annual Desert AIDS Walk. For 35 consecutive years, the walk has raised critical funds for HIV/AIDS programs and services in the valley while celebrating survivors and remembering those who lost their lives to the disease. Goals for this year’s walk include walking to help end the HIV and AIDS epidemics in the Coachella Valley and to promote health equity and health justice.
The theme of this year's walk is Walk, Out Loud, because DAP Health has been watching the current socio-political climate in the nation and has seen challenges like this before. “We’re using our voices and our feet to advocate for members of our community who don’t have access to the healthcare they need and deserve,” said DAP Health Director of Brand Marketing, Steven Henke. “Together, we are going to help connect more people to wellness. DAP has always been an advocacy-based health care organization and this year, we are inviting community members who believe in health equity to lace up their walking shoes, join arms with their neighbors and be advocates for change”
The Palm Springs AIDS Walk began in 1987, two years after the world’s first AIDS Walk was held in Los Angeles. Thousands of people were on hand to raise awareness and funds for the deadly disease. Local activists Dr. David Kaminsky and his wife Jan chaired the event. The late actor Kirk Douglas, a prominent valley resident, was a featured speaker who encouraged participants at the start of the walk by telling them, “Let’s walk, run, do whatever we can to eradicate AIDS.” Former President Gerald Ford and former first lady Betty Ford joined the post-event picnic. Mrs. Ford attended the event again in 1995. The late Sonny Bono, then Palm Springs mayor, took part in the walk in the early 90s.
The walk has a loyal following. Between 1,200–1,500 people participate each year. One of those walkers, DAP Health Board Chair Patrick Jordan, has been involved since 2007. Over the years, he and his team, Palm Springs Properties, have raised millions of dollars for the organization. For Jordan, it is a labor of love. “It's one of my favorite events that we do every year for a number of reasons,” he said. “Number one being its very community-focused. It is not community specific, so it is not just for people living with HIV and AIDS. It is everybody. And that is what I love. It is kids, dogs, and families and Black, White, purple, and everything else. It really involves the entire community and I love that spirit.”
Even the recent COVID-19 pandemic could not deter DAP Health from holding its walk, albeit virtually. “We were able to pivot, and we did a virtual walk,” said DAP Health Director of Development, James Lindquist. “We invited people to either walk in their neighborhoods or go to their health centers or gyms... We provided six to eight maps [of 10K routes] that were throughout the Coachella Valley. We also provided the map that we normally do. People posted about where they were walking and what they were doing that day. It was great. It was a nice way to still be connected, even though we could not be together. It was still a staggering amount of money that was raised and people that still wanted to support DAP Health, especially during COVID.”
As medical advances have been made and more effective treatments found, the focus of the walk has shifted slightly. The first one was aimed at keeping teens free of HIV. Most patients in 1987 were in their 20s and, since HIV can incubate for years, were exposed as teens. Subsequent walks continued to raise awareness and funds to further research and drug development but in recent years, with the ability to successfully manage HIV and AIDS, looking to the future where a specific walk for HIV/AIDS is no longer necessary is a real possibility. “I would love the day when we don't have to have a walk,” said Lindquist. “My goal is that this walk will change to something that is more along the lines of health equity rather than just a focus on HIV.”
“The walk will always continue until there's a cure,” said Jordan. “I would like to get to that point where we say we are not walking. We get closer and closer every year, but until there is, I will continue.”
Register to walk or donate in support of this year’s Desert AIDS Walk by visit ing desertaidswalk.org.