Robert hadn’t even celebrated his 30th birthday when he was told he had months to live…or a few years at best…and that he should get his affairs in order.
Just as he’d barely begun a promising career and had been settling into a life he loved, everything was suddenly turned upside down. Robert’s doctors still weren’t completely clear on what was wrong with him, as his symptoms seemed to go from bad to worse with each new day. He went on disability, sold his life insurance policy as a viatical settlement, and cashed in his small retirement savings. After all, what was the point of saving money when you’d been handed a death sentence?
“Robert” is a prototype of many of the patients and clients that Desert AIDS Project (D.A.P.) serves today. Many Roberts – and a few “Robertas” as well – are still alive today, after living 20 to 30 years or more with a condition they were told would almost certainly kill them well before their time. Some of those D.A.P. clients and patients were even featured in Desert Migration, a 2015 documentary film by a local man, also living with HIV, who wanted to tell the stories of the challenges and triumphs of those who are proudly proclaiming, “I’m still here!”
Back to work…back to school…back to life
“HIV/AIDS” is a term that has been uncoupled over the past 35 years because HIV can now be treated as a chronic illness that may never advance to AIDS. Faced with this incredible shift in the health of many of their patients – even those who carry the badge of “long-time survivor” proudly – D.A.P. created its Career Building Program.
In 2015, the program helped find jobs for 104 of those D.A.P. serves. In addition, three clients now have internships, another 30 are volunteering, and three more have returned to school. The program is headed by Valerio Iovino, Career Building Coordinator at Desert AIDS Project.
Although now a D.A.P. employee, Iovino himself began with the Palm Springs nonprofit organization in 2014 as an HIV testing volunteer – before his greater skill set was recognized. Iovino has a master’s degree in business psychology from the University of Turin in Italy and a second master’s from Keller Graduate School of Management in human resources with a specialization in employment counseling, and D.A.P. knew they had clients who could benefit from his knowledge.
“D.A.P. has always believed in taking care of the ‘total person’ because we know that any of our patients are so much more than their HIV diagnosis. Some of them want very much to have fuller, richer lives that come with employment, going back to school, or volunteering for a cause they believe in,” said Dr. David Hersh, Chief Clinical Office at Desert AIDS Project. “We feel like we’re just getting started with our Career Building Program, to help our clients get back to more active lives.”
For more information visit www.DesertAIDSProject.org or call (760) 323.2118.