By Daniel Vaillancourt

The Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards, DAP Health’s biggest annual fundraiser, also fondly known as The Chase returns to dazzle donors outdoors at the Palm Springs Convention Center on the evening of Saturday, March 25. Fashion, medicine, and music will take center stage at the starry annual benefit gala.

Created by (and named after) the late, world-renowned interior designer Steve Chase — an early DAP Health donor, volunteer, and board member who worked touring the globe but loved Palm Springs best — this glittery gala is a golden star on the desert’s social calendar.

“Your presence at The Chase, beyond signaling your support for our honorees, shows your continued commitment to DAP Health’s 10,000+ patients and clients,” says DAP Health CEO David Brinkman. “Every attendee can count themselves among the bighearted humanitarians who help remove roadblocks to quality care and supportive services for their neighbors and friends so that everyone may live life to their fullest potential.”

Though it began as Desert AIDS Project in 1984 to fulfill the needs of people gripped by the HIV crisis, DAP Health — which was recently rebranded and has long been designated as a federally qualified health center (FQHC) — has opened its doors wide to every individual in the Coachella Valley. The advocacy-based, culturally competent nonprofit now provides everything from primary, HIV/AIDS, dental, gender-affirming, sexual, women’s, and mental health care to housing, food assistance, recovery, and harm reduction services. No one is ever turned away for inability to pay.

Vision Forward — the agency’s 10-year strategic plan that will see it grow to serve 25,000 patients annually by 2025 — has completed 90% of its fundraising, with more than $6 million still needed to complete the expansion of its physical and programmatic footprint.  

Presenting Sponsor Eisenhower Health

This year, The Chase is presented by Eisenhower Health, with special thanks to Amazon. “The health care needs of the Palm Springs community present unique challenges,” says Eisenhower Health President and Chief Executive Officer Marty Massiello. “According to recent statistics, the prevalence rate of people living with HIV in Palm Springs is more than 21 times higher than California overall. Eisenhower Health, like our community partner DAP Health, is dedicated to understanding and treating the specific needs of this first generation of people who are aging with HIV. Providing HIV specialists and focusing on both prevention and treatment are vital to advancing health care equality in our community. It’s events like The Chase that help raise awareness, and much-needed funds, to meet these unique health care advancements that both organizations see among our patients.”

Eisenhower Health has been a supporter of DAP Health for decades. “DAP Health and Eisenhower Health share the same vision and the same values,” continues Massiello. “Our organizations envision a community where everyone has access to the care they need, when they need it. We continue to collaborate and innovate together to meet the expanding needs of our valley. We are proud to support the work DAP Health is doing to redefine what health care is and what it can be in the future — including the many social determinants that inform wellness, including housing, health care access, nutrition, and mental health.”

The Blue Carpet and Amazon’s Amazing Cocktail Party

It all begins with arrivals on the Blue Carpet, which will pay homage to health care workers. Guests will then be granted entrance into Amazon’s Amazing Cocktail Party, where nattily attired attendees will be urged to engage in meaningful conversations while feasting on beverages and hors d’oeuvres accompanied by local music maven DJ Modgirl spinning her tuneful magic.

“We imagine a room filled with local leaders communicating bold ideas that inspire our community to create a better path to health care,” says Amazon’s Head of External Affairs & Community Engagement for The West and Inland Empire David Ambroz.

Explaining the synergy between DAP Health and Amazon, Ambroz continues: “What I saw during my first tour has stayed with me all year. I noticed that DAP Health approaches innovation the same way Amazon does — we start with our customers and work backward. DAP Health remains patient-centric in its delivery of human care and development of new ways to improve health and wellness.”

Brinkman: “Amazon serves the valley’s residents, business owners, and employees. The organization has made a long-term commitment to our community, having done business here for more than 10 years, and we are grateful for the company’s prioritization of equitable access to health care for everyone. DAP Health looks forward to partnering with Amazon all year long as we increase the positive impact we can make together. As a leader in our community, Amazon has a vision for — and commitment to — our success.”

The Evening’s Program

To kick off the programmatic portion of the evening — set against stunning sunset views of the majestic San Jacinto mountains — Tony Award nominee (and Drama Desk and Obie winner) Saycon Sengbloh will perform an opening set prior to event co-chairs and DAP Health Board Members Kevin Bass, Lauri Kibby, and Scott Nevins officially welcoming the audience. They’ll then cede the spotlight to Brinkman, whose speech will address the future of health care in the Coachella Valley and the role the organization will play in guaranteeing health care access to every member of our desert community.

Returning host Michael Urie — a veteran of stage, TV, and film who currently stars alongside the legendary Harrison Ford in the new Apple TV+ hit comedy series “Shrinking” — will then shepherd the evening, which will include the bestowing of honors onto Desert Healthcare District & Foundation, its board of directors, and its CEO Dr. Conrado E. Bárzaga (who are jointly receiving the DAP Health Humanitarian Award) and fashion icon and philanthropist Donna Karan (who will be granted the DAP Health Equity Award).

Between those two tributes, Nick Adams — who not only originated the role of Adam/Felicia in the Tony-winning Broadway music “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” but co-starred in Hulu’s queer-themed comedy “Fire Island” — will regale the crowd with his crooning. Leading up to the live auction and live appeal, helmed by veteran auctioneer Dale Johannes, two patient videos that exemplify the lifesaving work done by DAP Health will be shown.

Once Urie wraps up the program, headline entertainer Darren Criss — the Emmy-, Golden Globe-, and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning star of such pop culture sensations as “Glee,” “American Buffalo,” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story — will delight the audience with an eclectic musical set. (Read more about Criss in the Q&A, below.)

Lastly, what would The Chase be without its infamous, rollicking afterparty, which will see DJ Modgirl return to her turntables to usher guests onto the dance floor before the night comes to a close?

            For more information about this sure-to-be sensational soirée — or to procure tickets — please visit

Up Close with Headliner Darren Criss

Darren Criss — the 36-year-old “Glee” alum who won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for playing gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan in Ryan Murphy’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” — may be making his professional desert debut when he headlines the 2023 The Chase for DAP Health, but he’s no stranger to the Coachella Valley. Since he reports he has a “significant amount of family in the Palm Desert,” he’s somewhat of a regular. “I’ve got all my favorite spots, let’s put it that way.” He even made it to fellow performer Harry Styles’ last North American “Love On Tour” stop (and impromptu birthday bash) on February 1 at the new Acrisure Arena.

            I chatted with Criss over Zoom while he was in Los Angeles to talk about what we can expect at his show, his love of all things show biz, and his ties to queer audiences.

Tell me a bit about the show you’ll be presenting at The Chase.

When I have the opportunity to play events like this, which are very fun — I know The Chase is very big and I’m very thrilled to be there — I’m the court jester. I’m just making sure I’m servicing people having a good time. So, I tend to stray away from deep cuts [in favor of] any smattering of things that people would be familiar with from, Broadway or the stuff I did on “Glee” or just covers in general that are fun to play and that kind of seem appropriate for the vibe. I’m notorious about not coming up with a set list until a few days before. I’ll have a band [that night], so I have to be a little more fastidious with the organizing of that. The nice thing about being a musician is you’re your own accompanist. If this was just me, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. Maybe about an hour before I went on stage — ’cause I would go to the party, kind of get a vibe from people, have a couple drinks — I’d go, “OK, I think I get the playlist,” and then I’d just do it… I’d just show up and try to make people happy. You can quote me on that.

Acting, singing, or songwriting and producing — what would you say is your favorite?

That’s a great question, because usually the question is, “Which one do you consider yourself?” And my answer is, they’re all the same because they’re all connected. They’re all storytelling. It’s just different tailoring. Different dress codes. But it’s the same party, the same venue….

You know, I’ve been very lucky, where I’ve gotten to do everything. I will say the most fulfilling would probably have to be songwriting…. Songwriting and producing probably consume most of my soul.

Talking acting, is it film, TV, or theatre?

Nice work if you can get it. Listen, I’m a mercenary. I’ll be very happy to have the opportunity to work in any of those fields if they invite me to the party. Lucky me. And I’m always grateful and cherish every opportunity that comes my way. Obviously, I come from the theatre, so it kind of has my heart and soul because there is an immediacy to it. So, yeah, that might be the leading player on the field.

Between “Glee,” Ryan Murphy, and Broadway, you clearly have a lot of queer fans. Thoughts?

I think the simple answer is I’ve always felt so privileged to be included at what I deem to be the cool kids table. And that’s not me trying to be charming or sucking up to a certain demographic. I’ve spent a lifetime chasing my heroes, wanting to have the people I think are cool think I’m cool. And I’ve worked very hard for that. I’ve educated myself. I’ve tried to cultivate my life so that people I respect might go, “Hey, this kid ain’t so bad.” And a huge [number], if not the majority, of those people come from the queer community. I feel very privileged to have anybody’s attention, much less that of a community of people I think are rad. I’m just so pleased to have a seat of the table, and I hope that my conversation is interesting enough to hold their attention and to be worthy of their time.

As you know, The Chase is DAP Health’s largest annual benefit, and the organization began in 1984 as Desert AIDS Project. How have HIV and AIDS touched your life personally?

I was born in the eighties, raised in the nineties, in San Francisco. I’m from a very, very queer city during a very troubled time that didn’t see everybody survive. People’s uncles were dying. I was a little boy. You’d notice, and you’d go, “Wait, what’s going on?” But it’s something that didn’t really hit me until much later in life. When you’re old enough to understand and realize, “Holy shit, that was a pretty insane time.” I’m very lucky because I’m of a generation that got to benefit from the slow de-stigmatization and more healthy conversations around HIV and AIDS. The men and women in my circle who are living with it, when we talk about the sort of dark days of AIDS in the United States, they and I are just supremely aware of the people upon whose shoulders we get to live our day-to-day life. I consider myself very, very lucky.

Well said. Shifting gears to a lighter subject, The Chase can be quite the fashionista extravaganza. So, here’s the most important question: Have you picked out your outfit?

Oh, girl. Um, no. [Laughs] And I’m not proud about it. I gotta get on it. Thanks for reminding me. I gotta get a set list together and an outfit. It’s literally the two things that are required of me. And I don’t have either one right now.

PHOTO CREDITS: Amanda Demme: Blue NY Bomber Jacket, Bright patterned jacket / Lindsey Byrnes: Red back drop photos / Pierre Hennequin: B&W photo