Safe Schools Desert Cities Board President Eric Ornelas has been selected to participate in the 2022 Nonprofit Desert Fast Pitch, a Shark Tank-style competition that allows Coachella Valley nonprofit professionals to compete in a pitch contest for a chance to win additional funding for their organization.
Contestants are coached for ten weeks through a combination of presentation and workshop-style classes, expanding their knowledge in branding, networking, marketing, successful storytelling, public speaking, and developing an inspiring multipurpose pitch.
The program culminates in the live Fast Pitch competition, where contestants will deliver their three-minute pitches to a panel of judges and an audience of approximately 300 philanthropic, business, civic, and nonprofit leaders. Over $65,000 in cash prizes will be awarded
The program is presented by The Regional Access Project Foundation and NPO Centric. The live 2022 Fast Pitch competition is on Thursday, October 6, at the UCR Palm Desert Campus. Tickets are available now and can be purchased here. For more information, visit RapFoundation.org.
Students tend to thrive in schools and in their communities when they feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. Unfortunately, the threat of gun violence, online bullying, and school disruption caused by COVID-19 are just some of the challenges that many students face, threatening their well-being and chances for academic success.
For LGBTQ+ students, the challenges are even greater. Statistics show that LGBTQ+ youth experience bullying, teasing, harassment, and physical assault more than other students. They also have higher rates of suicide. The good news is that positive and supportive learning environments can help students overcome these challenges.
Safe Schools Desert Cities is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that works directly with school-sanctioned Gay-Straight Alliance Club (GSA) advisors, offering support for LGBTQ+ middle and high school students in the Coachella Valley and surrounding communities. Safe Schools Desert Cities provides students with education, guidance, advocacy, resources, and opportunities for self-expression.
Since 2012, Safe Schools Desert Cities has provided nearly $200,000 in scholarships and financial awards. In addition, through events—such as the Rainbow Youth Summit, Leadership and Empowerment Summer Camp, Pride Prom, and the Youth Zone at Greater Palm Springs Pride—GSA students have opportunities to authentically engage with their peers in a safe and affirming environment.
Safe Schools Desert Cities relies on community support to fund its programs and activities and offers several ways to donate. To help make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth, please visit SafeSchoolsDC.org and donate today. As an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff and very little overhead, contributions are spent thoughtfully and carefully. Your donations are tax-deductible.
To learn more about our organization, please visit SafeSchoolsDC.org.
The Burton/May Pride Award (scholarship) program administered by Safe Schools Desert Cities (SSDC) has moved the administrative tasks for the application process and the scholarship funds to the Inland Empire Community Foundation (IECF). This change was approved by the SSDC Board of Directors in May and the SSDC Fund at IECF was established.
The SSDC scholarship program began with two awards and $5000 in 2012. In recent years, the program has grown to over 30 recipients and $20,000 to $30,000 in annual awards.
SSDC will continue to determine the application requirements and application schedule and will select scholarship recipients. Moving administrative tasks to IECF will result in the following changes:
- Applications for the Burton/May Pride Award and supporting materials (personal statements and references) will be received and compiled by IECF for review by the SSDC Awards Committee. Applications for the 2023-24 scholarships will be available by October 1, 2022, through the application deadline of January 31, 2023.
- Funds for the program will be held in the Safe SSDC Fund at IECF.
- Donations for scholarships will be directed to the SSDC Fund at IECF.
- Payments from the SSDC Fund will be authorized by SSDC and payment will be made by IECF.
- IECF will assist with publicizing the scholarship program.
- IECF will assist with identifying potential donors and working with donors and sponsors of the program.
- We continue to have organizational sponsors for scholarships (Desert Business Association, Brothers of the Desert, and the Walt Whitman Foundation of IECF). We are also adding individual sponsors who make a three-year commitment of $1000 or more per year with a 4% administrative fee.
Direct access to the scholarship donation page is available here: https://www.iegives.org/funds/safe-schools-desert-cities/ For donations by check, please make the check payable to IECF with “Safe Schools Desert Cities” in the memo line. Mail the check to:
3700 Sixth Street, Suite 200
Riverside, CA 92501
by Mary Perry
It was Back to the Future at this year’s Pride Prom as we celebrated over 50 years of activism on behalf of our high school students and allies throughout the desert community – from Coachella to Palm Springs.
The last Safe Schools Desert Cities Pride Prom was held in 2019, so we had a lot of fun to catch up on. And we did! Just under 200 young people danced the night away at the Palm Springs Air Museum to the tunes of DJ Alf Alpha who was spinning from inside his VW Bus. Catering from Lulu’s of Palm Springs was over the top. Both savories and sweets were served with the longest line at the cotton candy machine!
While many of the chaperoning adults could be seen in the 60s outfits pulled from the backs of closets, the guests of honor, the students, were in a variety of outfits from the traditional prom look to vintage to contemporary. The dancing was fabulous and the entertainment the best that the desert has to offer.
Students from all over the Coachella Valley dance and celebrate at the 2022 Pride Prom.
Mistress of Ceremonies Bella da Ball pulled out all the stops with her glamorous look to her list of guests that included Marina Mac, Sheena Wolfe, Carol Kamenis, Aura Van Dank, Charles Herrera, and more! The doors opened at 8:00 p.m. and the magic went on until well past midnight. As the invitation noted, “Come as you are and hustle on over! Let’s dance to the enduring sound of freedom, inspired by disco, soul, pop, rock, and glam rock.”
As prom guests will tell you, this is THE EVENT of the season. It is the prom where you don’t have to worry about who you are going with, what you are wearing, or the limousine you come in. This is the prom where you can be you and you friends can be them and we can all, well, really, just be!
Plans are already in place for next year’s Pride Prom and I, for one, can’t wait to be there!
The SYNERGY Scholarship, presented by the GT Dave Foundation, is open to applications for LGTBQ+ high school students who are interested in higher education and have entrepreneurial goals.
This inaugural scholarship was launched to uplift LGTBQ+ students who have high hopes, big dreams, and the ambition to do more. Inspired by founder and CEO GT Dave’s journey as a gay entrepreneur who began his business at a young age, the SYNERGY Scholarship offers a $250,000 commitment over the next five years to empower educational opportunities within the LGBTQ+ community.
- Member of LGBTQ+ community and/or has shown a demonstrated commitment to supporting the LGBTQ+ community in pursuit of advancement in business.
- Currently enrolled in high school and graduating during the 2021-2022 school year or currently enrolled in freshman or sophomore year of college
- Commitment to education
- Seeking secondary education
- Minimum GPA of 2.5
- Must legally reside within the continental U.S.
- Interest in pursuing business or a related field
Deadline to apply is March 31. For more information and to apply, please visit https://gtslivingfoods.com/pages/synergy-scholarship
The Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast is back for another wonderful year of celebrating diversity and the LGTBQ+ community. A gathering of 1,000 will be the largest in the nation to honor Harvey Milk and celebrate his legacy as a political and community leader who stood for justice and equality across the intersections of oppression, self-identity, and self-determination.
The 2022 Coachella Valley Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast will be a powerful testament to Harvey Milk’s legacy.
Milk opened the doors for many LGBTQ+ leaders and has given hope to generations of youth who followed his footsteps. We will celebrate with those who were influenced by Harvey Milk and embody his courage, passion, and sense of justice.
Two hundred of those attending are expected to be LGBTQ+ students from schools throughout Coachella Valley.
- Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 9:30-11:00 am, Breakfast event (doors open 8:30 am)
- Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, Palm Springs, CA
- Featured speakers, honorees, outstanding youth, special tribute presentation
See more events here.
Provided by Mary E. B. Perry, public information officer, Desert Sands Unified School District
Safe Schools Desert Cities supports the youth of our community in so very many ways. As an active volunteer with SSDC, I have chaperoned and attended a number of the Harvey Milk Breakfasts where SSDC and Palm Springs Pride invite our GSA students to be honored guests. I have participated in several Rainbow Youth Summits. I have also attended (and yes, proudly ridden in) the PS Pride Parade. But the “bestest” and most “funnest” event of all is the annual Pride Prom!
Traditionally held at the Palm Springs Air Museum, this event is open to ALL students in our community from Beaumont to Blythe. Our GSA students are there to assist, as are such wonderful people as my former next door neighbor, Bella da Ball. Do you want to wear a tux? Okay. Do you want to wear jeans? Okay. Do you want to celebrate who you are by your choice of outfit? Okay. Just come over and enjoy! There is dancing, refreshments, games, photo booths, and just a feeling of inclusion, of warmth, and of affirmation.
See our online events calendar here.
In March 2020, the Rainbow Youth Summit became our last in-person event of that year as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold. The waves of infection surges that followed required the cancellation of the Summit and other events for 2021 and 2022. Now, with waning infection rates and relaxing restrictions, things are finally looking up.
At Safe Schools Desert Cities, we are hopeful that upcoming events can and will resume safely. The Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast is scheduled for May 11 and the Pride Prom for May 13. More information on these events and others will be posted on our website and social media channels soon, so please stay tuned.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate the return of smiles, hugs, and togetherness
President, Safe Schools Desert Cities
By Mary Perry, SSDC Communications Committee & 2021-2022 Champion of Youth
We’re back! After many months of what we see as inactivity for our students, there is lots of planning going on here at Safe Schools Desert Cities (SSDC). Our GSA clubs did their very best to stay connected and meet during virtual learning, but they are again meeting in person and their energy is travelling beyond their individual schools. This energy and excitement were evident during the Pride Parade and SSDC Youth Zone at Pride earlier this month. We at SSDC were blown away not only by the number of students who turned up to march, but also by the outpouring of love and support from the community. We look forward to the same amount of love and support for our upcoming events: Rainbow Youth Summit, Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast, and Pride Prom.
My involvement with SSDC began as I became involved in the events for our students at Desert Sands Unified School District, and eventually as a SSDC communications committee member when my dear friends Eric Ornelas, SSDC president, and Tori St. Johns, SSDC board member, brought me into the fold. It was my great honor to be named Safe School Desert Cities’ 2021-2022 Champion of Youth.
I’ve attended, supported, and very much enjoyed being at all three of our upcoming events. The joy on the faces of our students as they take part in the Rainbow Summit, a day of seminars from keynote speakers; Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast, celebrating Harvey Milk and others who have paved the way; and Pride Prom, a LGBTQ+ and ally-friendly valley-wide high school dance. Please consider committing to funding these amazing events. We need help with busing and refreshments and decorations and everything you can think of!
These activities allow students freedom to be who they are–kids!
- Saturday, March 5 Rainbow Youth Summit
- Thursday, May 12 Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast
- Friday, May 13 Pride Prom
See our online events calendar here.
By Eric Ornelas, SSDC president
The 2021 Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival was held on November 6 and 7 in downtown Palm Springs where Safe Schools Desert Cities hosted the Youth Zone and marched in the parade.
Several GSA Clubs from the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas walked in the parade with Safe Schools Desert Cities. Walking the parade route with their friends and advisors and listening to the cheers of hundreds of spectators proved to be an uplifting experience for our students. A common reaction from the kids was, “this is the best day ever!”
The parade was impactful for spectators as well. The sight of hundreds of LGBTQ+ students walking boldly and proudly down Palm Canyon Drive, left some spectators emotional and in tears. “I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. It’s fantastic,” said one spectator.
Our friends at Walmart/Sam’s Club provided a free pre-parade breakfast for our kids along with backpacks filled with Pride t-shirts, assorted flags, face glitter, and other goodies. Employees from the Palm Springs and La Quinta locations gathered prior to the parade to assemble the bags for our kids. We could not be more thankful for their support!
After the parade, our students gathered at the Youth Zone where they had lunch, rested, participated in activities, or just hung out. Activity and information booths were provided by the Rainbow Youth Pride Alliance, Borrego Health, and DAP Health to entertain and educate our students. These organizations have been amazing partners, and we are grateful for their participation.
Lunch was provided in the Youth Zone by The Sandwich Spot, Palm Springs. Store owner, Dena Banes, and her crew worked extra hard and extra early on an already busy day to assemble 250 sandwiches for our kids. Thank you, Dena and team. The sandwiches were a hit!
The Youth Zone and parade participation were made possible by our volunteers, GSA advisors, and by Ron De Harte, president of the Palm Springs Pride Organization. Ron and his team continue to be invaluable partners. We are thankful for the support and look forward to next year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue reimbursing schools for free meals to all students regardless of their income throughout the 2021-2022 school year. This is a continuation of the program that provided free meals to all students during both the 2020-2021 school year and the summer months.
Throughout the summers of 2020 and 2021 federally funded meals for all students were provided to children across the valley. Nutrition services teams from all three districts distributed meals to students in a “drive-through” setting. Coachella Valley nutrition services team provided almost 398,000 meals during the 2021 summer; Desert Sands passed out almost 333,000; and Palm Springs bagged and served almost 211,000 meals.
Safe Schools Desert Cities applauds the work of our education partners. School district meal distribution and our local food banks are committed to providing nutritious meals to our children. For more information on food distribution, reach out to the individual school districts or food banks.
The school districts are also providing vaccination clinics to our students and families and that information is available directly from Coachella Valley, Desert Sands, and Palm Springs unified school districts.
Martha’s Village & Kitchen provides a variety of services for individuals and families in the Coachella Valley. Based on a foundation of compassion, respect, empathy, empowerment, and dignity, the services at Martha’s have continued to assist those in need with food, housing, healthcare, and education. This has become especially important during the time of a global pandemic when so many are left without income, shelter, food, and other resources.
Martha’s Village Cooling Center is open daily during the summer months, offering lunch, water, and snacks to those most in need, including the homeless and elderly, during the desert’s hottest times of the year. “Your kindness, generosity, and empathy help our neighbors survive in this harsh environment, providing them a cool and welcoming place to take solace.”
The staff at Martha’s Village is able to assist those looking for employment, including people who may feel that the odds are stacked against them. Martha’s Employment Specialists create a customized employment plan unique to the individual and their goals of “helping them find a permanent job and a life of self-sufficiency.”
Martha’s Village tutoring center is now open Monday through Friday afternoons giving children access to personalized schoolwork assistance. Although all schooling can be difficult, virtual and distance learning can be especially challenging for many families and students. “Our tutoring center offers much-needed support so that these students won’t fall behind during this trying time.”
USDA Food Distribution
Every third Wednesday of the month, Martha’s Village & Kitchen hosts a USDA Food Distribution at their Indio campus and has an Emergency Food Pantry open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. through 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. through 3:00 p.m. “Community members in need receive fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, canned foods, and other essential items. This program benefits families with children, the elderly, the working class, college students, and many more.”
Martha’s Village & Kitchen is located at 83791 Date Ave, Indio, California. For more information about Martha’s services, please visit marthasvillage.org or call (760) 347-4741. Information provided by Martha’s Village & Kitchen.
Jim Gross, former board member and treasurer of Safe Schools Desert Cities (SSDC), passed away on April 1, 2021, following a battle with stomach cancer. Jim was a member of the Board formed when SSDC was reactivated by Doug Hairgrove and Warren “Woody” Wood. Doug and Woody had known Jim and his family for years when they served as educators at Cope Middle School in Redlands. Jim was one of their students with whom they became friends.
Jim also served on the Awards Committee, which administers SSDC scholarships. In addition to his participation at the Board and Committee level, Jim was an advocate for mindfulness training and shared his experience with GSA Advisors and students as well as offering workshops on mindfulness at the annual Rainbow Youth Summit.
Doug Hairgrove commented that “Jim’s favorite activity was Pride Prom where he loved performing ‘marriages’ in the Marriage Booth. His tender heart often found him in tears, especially a few times when instead of marriages he was asked to perform serious engagements.”
Jim was active in many other organizations and encouraged those organizations to support SSDC. As an active member of the El Rancho Vista Neighborhood Organization, Jim was instrumental in their financial contributions to support SSDC activities and programs. We will remember Jim for his commitment to community involvement and his ongoing support for Safe Schools Desert Cities.
Safe Schools Desert Cities Corp is a registered non‐profit 501(c)(3) public charity organization and contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law.
Safe Schools Desert Cities awards program
by Gloria Kapp, vice president and scholarship coordinator
In 2012, Safe Schools Desert Cities initiated a scholarship program by creating two awards, the Burton-May Pride Award and the Financial Assistance Award, based on a generous donation. The following year, one of the awards was named the Burton-May Pride Award after the founding donors. The purpose for the Burton-May Pride award was formalized as:
These awards were established by John Burton and Ken May to recognize outstanding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or intersex (LGBTQI) youth who, through their participation, dedication, and initiative, have helped foster a positive self-image among other LGBTQI youth. Evidence of these attributes may be seen in a variety of instances such as, but not limited to, active participation in a gay-straight alliance, active participation in events sponsored by Safe Schools Desert Cities, participation in the greater LGBTQI community, fostering positive images in others, or setting an example for others to emulate.
Allies may apply but the number of awards to allies is extremely limited.
This award is not based on scholastic achievement.
The Financial Assistance Award was added to provide a one-time, immediate payment designed to assist with fees for advanced placement exams, admissions applications, or emergency food or housing. Both the Burton-May Pride Award and the Financial Assistance Award are available for students pursuing vocational programs as well as those planning to attend college after high school graduation.
In 2013, Gloria Kapp assumed leadership of the Awards Committee, which continues to provide ongoing support for the scholarship program and selecting recipients. By 2015, the program had grown to ten recipients, and thirty-two scholarships were awarded in 2018. Including awards for the 2021-2022 academic year, over $150,000 has been awarded to students since 2012.
Growth of the program continues to rely on individual donations and important support from other organizations. Ongoing annual awards are supported by the Desert Business Association, the Walt Whitman Foundation of the Inland Empire Community Foundation, and Brothers of the Desert.
Students receiving awards through programs administered by Safe Schools Desert Cities indicate that their awards show important support beyond their dollar value.
To help continue the financial assistance of our LGBTQ+ youth, please consider giving to any of our scholarships or other funds. Your support is appreciated!
Safe Schools Desert Cities Corp is a registered non‐profit 501(c)(3) public charity organization and contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law.
SSDC was featured in a Desert Sun article after receiving a general support grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The article highlighted our mission, events, and the success story of Carly Jacobs, who said, “[Safe Schools Desert Cities] gave me hope in a future where I would be supported.”
The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert hosted a special online screening of Mama Gloria, a documentary film about Gloria Allen, a Black transgender activist who started a charm school for transgender youth. Afterwards, the Reverend Barbara Fast, was joined by Allen, the filmmaker Luchina Fisher, Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton, and SSDC President Eric Ornelas for a panel discussion. The church donated the proceeds to Safe Schools Desert Cities.