Safe Schools “Out at the Fair” and at 29 Palms Pride Fest

Safe Schools out in the community. On Saturday, February 18, Board Member Tori St Johns hosted a table at the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival for “Out at the Fair,” celebrating diversity and inclusiveness at the fair.

On Saturday, April 8, Board Member Jennifer Jungwirth represented Safe Schools Desert Cities at 29 Palms Pride Fest, held at Freedom Plaza in downtown Twentynine Palms. The day featured live music, drag queens and kings, food, a silent disco and more.


CV Giving Day

The inaugural Coachella Valley Giving Day launched on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, and Safe Schools Desert Cities was a recipient. Thanks to a recent partnership between First Bank and The Desert Community Foundation, CV Giving day raises money and awareness for Coachella Valley nonprofits during the 24-hour online giving challenge. Please visit our giving page and stay tuned for 2024 to support Safe Schools Desert Cities and your favorite charities. Donations help fund our events, including the Rainbow Youth Summit, Summer Leadership & Empowerment Camp, Pride Prom, and the Youth Zone at Palm Springs Pride. For more information, please visit

Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast Coachella Valley is coming May 11, 2023

Each May, the Harvey Milk Coachella Valley Diversity Breakfast is held at the Palm Springs Convention Center. This inspiring event gathers hundreds of equality and justice supporters, celebrated in memory of the late Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man elected to office in California.

Milk was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for only eleven months when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978, following the successful campaigning for a bill banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment based on sexual orientation.

Proceeds from the event benefit valley youth through Gay Straight Alliances and other LGBTQ youth-related events. In fact, proceeds from this year’s event will be used to pay for our students to attend the event once again and for the buses that take them to the convention center.

Students arrive prior to the official opening of the doors for time to listen and to ask questions of special guest speakers before taking their seats for breakfast. Many of the students participate in the parade of flags reminding us that not all countries in the world embrace the basic human rights of equality and justice. Awards are presented in a myriad of categories to students who have spoken from their hearts in print, in video, and in actions.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click or tap here.

Scholarship Awards Reception 2023

On Sunday, March 26, 2023, Safe Schools Desert Cities presented 21 students with the Burton-May Pride Award. This award recognizes outstanding LGBTQ+ students who demonstrate a positive self-image among other LGBTQ+ youth. The awards range from $500 to $1,500 and provide support for educational expenses following high school (trade school, training program, community college, or university). Congratulations to all the winners!

The Burton/May Pride Awards are made possible through the generosity of our sponsors: John Burton and Ken May, Brothers of the Desert, Desert Business Association, Inland Empire Community Foundation, Unitarian Universalist Church of The Desert, Coachella Valley Coffee, Taste Specific, Jonathan Espy, Gloria Kapp & Joan Elliott, Carl Nelson, Tori St Johns, Joe Staley & Stuart Clayton (honoring Joyce Sherrie Clayton), Michael Tillison, David & Heidi Erlanger, Al Jones, Michael McGrady & Ken Thomas, Bill Tumulty, David Powell, UCR Palm Desert Center, Lynn Hammond Catering, Jack Fitzsimmons, and Peter East. We are grateful for your support!

To learn how you can support our scholarship program, see Pride Award and/or Financial Assistance Award.

Rainbow Youth Summit 2023

On Saturday, March 11, 2023, over 100 middle and high school students from the Coachella Valley and several surrounding communities gathered at the UCR Palm Desert Center for the annual Rainbow Youth Summit—our first since 2020!

Participating students listened to inspirational speakers, visited information tables, and participated in workshops. Special thanks to Peter Daut, of KESQ Newschannel 3; Palm Springs City Council Member, Lisa Middleton; and KGAY 106.5 Palm Springs radio personalities, John Taylor, Chris Shebel, and Eric Ornelas for inspiring our LGBTQ+ kids to be their authentic selves.

Presentations, exhibits, and entertainment were provided by several organizations, including Free Mom Hugs, The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, DAP Health, Planned Parenthood, College of the Desert, L-Fund, Riverside University Health System – Behavioral Health, Desert Recreation District, Author Ryan Sallans, presented by The Transgender Health & Wellness Center-Inland Empire, DSUSD, CVUSD, UCR Palm Desert Center, Shann Carr, Brian Wanzek, Timothy McIntosh, and Carol Kamenis. Financial support was provided by The American Express Impact Through Golf Foundation and NPO Centric RAP Foundation. We thank them for making this event possible.

LGBTQ+ Leadership & Empowerment Camp 2023

The Safe Schools Desert Cities LGBTQ summer camp returns from June 8 to 11 for high school students (next school year’s 10th, 11th, and 12th graders). Campers will experience a fun-filled long weekend focused on leadership, personal enrichment, resilience, and community. Activities will include hiking, archery, paintball, rock climbing, swimming, canoeing, arts & crafts, and more! The four-day, three-night camp is co-sponsored by DAP Health and other donors and is limited to 40 students. Meals, lodging, and transportation are included. Participation is free (a $40 registration fee will be refunded on the last day of camp). For details and to register, please go to

Pride Prom 2023

On May 12, 2023, Safe Schools Desert Cities will return to the Palm Springs Air Museum for its annual Pride Prom celebration. Open to area high school and college students (up to age 22), the Pride Prom offers LGBTQ+ students and their allies an opportunity to celebrate their authentic selves with a spectacular night of dancing, food, and fun in a welcoming, safe, and affirming environment.

This year’s event will include fantastic food, thanks to our friends at Lulu Palm Springs. A fresh beef, chicken, or veggie slider station will be available, along with grab-and-go pasta and fruit cups, plus cotton candy and popcorn.

The entertainment for the evening will be DJ and drag, featuring our favorite host/emcee, Ms. Bella da Ball, and special guest performers. This will be a night to remember.

Sponsorship opportunities are available. If you would like to help support this event, please see click here.

Tickets are on sale now at (no one is ever turned away for lack of ability to pay).

What: Pride Prom

When: Friday, March 12, 2023, 8:00 to 11:30 pm

Where: Palm Springs Air Museum

Tickets: $30 in advance. $35 at the door.

Theme: 80’s Pac-Man

Dress: Express yourself!

Goldenvoice presents Queer+, Accessible+

Goldenvoice is offering a couple of new programs for people who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). These programs are for those 18 and older.

A new program at Coachella this year that offers people ages 18 or older that identify as BIPOC and LGBTQ+ an opportunity to partake in a very unique program at the festival called Queer+. The Queer+ program includes community and career development opportunities, camping at the festival and VIP (or better) access to the festival performances and activations. Learn more about Queer+ here.

Applications to partake in the Queer+ program at Coachella 2023 are now open! Please extend this invitation to apply to your network and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. Deadline to apply is Feb 10, 2023. Apply here.

Another new program at Coachella this year offers BIPOC-identifying people living with disabilities an opportunity to partake in a very unique program at the festival called Accessible+. The Accessible+ program includes career development opportunities, camping at the festival and VIP (or better) access to the festival performances and activations. Learn more about Accessible+ here.

Applications to partake in the Accessible+ program at Coachella 2023 are now open! Deadline to apply is Feb 10, 2023. Apply here.

Rainbow Youth Summit

The annual Rainbow Youth Summit, held each year at the UCR Palm Desert Campus, presents a full day of activities for local LGBTQ+ middle and high school students and their adult advisors. With a program designed to teach leadership and empowerment skills, participants have an opportunity to participate in workshops and breakout sessions and listen to inspirational speakers. The students also get to have some fun. The day concludes with a live DJ and musical entertainment. The Rainbow Youth Summit is open to GSA Club members in middle and high schools in the Coachella Valley and surrounding communities. For more information, see our online event calendar.

The Future is Yours

Safe Schools Desert Cities is committed to being there for our LGBTQ+ students while they are in valley schools. But that commitment doesn’t end at graduation. Our organization offers financial assistance to our students as they take the next step in their education.

Financial assistance is provided in the form of scholarships in the amounts of $500 to $1500. Recipients are selected solely on the basis of an application and references. The question we ask students is why do you want to go to college and how can we help? The deadline for this scholarship application is Thursday, January 31. The funding can be used to cover such things as tuition and course fees, on-campus living expenses, books and other educational materials, computers, and enrollment costs. The awards will be presented at a special ceremony on March 26. Don’t wait to apply! Go to for the application.

An imminent deadline is out there for the Burton/May Pride Award administered by Safe Schools Desert Cities. Also given out in amounts from $500 to $1500 this scholarship can provide support for educational expenses in college or vocational school or training program. The deadline to apply is Thursday, January 31 and, like the other financial assistance program (above), the announcement of awards will be made on March 26. The link above will also take you to the application for the Burton/May Pride Award.

While the deadline for this year’s scholarship is just days away, we are already soliciting funds to increase our awards for next year. Your generosity in helping our students reach their occupational goals is very much appreciated. Please reach out to Gloria Kapp to donate at .

SSDC Brings GSA Advisors Together with a Special Luncheon

by Mary Perry

Meetings between students and their advisors for GSA take place throughout the school year. But there are opportunities for engagement in the summer as well; for the teachers who partner with Safe Schools Desert Cities in supporting our LGBTQ+ students, planning activities never stop. The GSA Advisor Luncheon is one of these events, focusing on the school advisors and liaisons that work with SSDC and students throughout the year.

On September 10, GSA advisers from across the community met at 849 Restaurant & Lounge in Palm Springs to say hello, make new friends, discuss thoughts for the 2022-2023 school year, and listen to a guest speaker. Present were 50 adults from teachers to counselors committed to supporting the youth of the valley and beyond.

A delicious lunch was provided by Willie Rhine and his staff at 840, but some laughter, some serious conversation, and words of wisdom from Kim Skeete from Borrego Health, a partner in care opportunities for our students, helped make the luncheon something special.

Dates were shared for this school year’s activities, including the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast, the Rainbow Youth Summit, Youth Zone and Pride Parade, and more. Gloria Kapp, vice president of SSDC Board of Directors, spoke about scholarships, financial assistance, and the awards reception at the end of the year.

Each year, this event includes President Eric Ornelas going around the room for introductions that inevitably result in connections that enable schools to reach out and work together.

A very special way to begin the year and reunite in our efforts to care for our children.

SSDC Joins the 2022 Fast Pitch Competition

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 

Why SSDC is Important and How do We Make a Difference

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 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

Safe Schools Desert Cities Collaborates with Inland Empire Community Foundation on Scholarships

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: 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 

Pride Prom Returns After Two Years

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!

SYNERGY Scholarship Now Accepting Applications

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.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • 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 

Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast: May 11

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.

Event Details:

  • 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.

Dance the Night Away at Pride Prom

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.

A Hopeful Spring

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

Eric Ornelas
President, Safe Schools Desert Cities

SSDC Events Back in Action

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.

Safe Schools Desert Cities and GSA Clubs Gather for Pride

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.

Free Meals Will Continue Through the School 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.

Free Services Provided by Martha’s Village

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.

Cooling Center
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 or call (760) 347-4741. Information provided by Martha’s Village & Kitchen. 

Jim Gross – In Memoriam

Jim Gross – In Memoriam

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.

PO Box 1662
Palm Springs, CA 92263

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

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!

PO Box 1662
Palm Springs, CA 92263

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 in the news – June 2021

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.

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