By Debbie Gregory.

It is said that change, trauma and loss can breed growth, creativity, and discovery.  The veterans and military families who engage in the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP)’s programs know this to be true.

After losing a family member to suicide while in high school, Sam Pressler turned to comedic expression to cope. When he later learned about mental health challenges affecting veterans through his college research at William & Mary, Sam felt compelled to act.

In the spring of his senior year in 2015, Pressler ran the first Comedy Bootcamp in Hampton Roads, Virginia, for a class of 10 veterans. Within a year, a supportive community formed, one that gave veterans permission to process and express, connect and grow, heal and serve others.

ASAP has served nearly 600 veterans, reaching nearly 15,000 audience members through graduation performances alone.

Veterans appreciate the value of a space where they can speak freely about potentially difficult subjects.

“The arts give you this freedom to hold a space for your own authentic narrative in a society that doesn’t always leave that space,” said Dani Aron-Schiavone, a former coordinator for ASAP who oversaw the storytelling class. “Especially for veterans.”

Storytelling is only one of three primary classes that compose ASAP’s programming, the other two being an improv class and the “Comedy Bootcamp” that served as the nonprofit’s first offering.

ASAP’s  creative writing class is led by a rotating crew of professional writers, and there are classes at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop on everything from printmaking to ceramics to collage. What started out as a deeply personal project has transformed into a fledgling nonprofit empire.

As stated on ASAP’s website, the reintegration of our nation’s veterans “involves veterans and civilians, community arts organizations and local health providers, military recruiting and VA care. It requires social, physical, and artistic outlets just as much as it demands traditional medical care.”