KSLA Salutes: National creative arts program helping local veterans combat isolation, build confidence
SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - Compared to the U.S. population, both deployed and non-deployed veterans have a higher risk of suicide; over 40% for deployed veterans and over 60% for non-deployed residents according to data released by the VA. The Armed Services Arts Partnership, or ASAP, is a non-profit organization working to bring that number down through comedy and other artistic endeavors that build confidence and a sense of community among veterans.
“Our first class was a comedy boot camp class. It was the only standup comedy class in the country designed for veterans,” said Brian Jenkins, ASAP’s executive director. “It has grown now to all kinds of art forms, we teach standup comedy, improve, creative writing, storytelling, acting, drawing, painting, you name it.”
Since its founding in 2015, ASAP has become the nation’s largest veteran and military community arts organization.
“Our founder, Sam Pressler, was studying at the College of William and Mary and digging into research on challenges like veteran suicide,” Jenkins said. “As he was learning more about the challenges that veterans face in their transition into civilian life he was reflecting on how humor was something that he has used to cope with challenges and loss in his own family. He thought as he was learning more about the challenges veterans face, he thought humor might be meaningful to them as well.”
Over the last five years, 1,522 veterans have been helped through the program.
“Not only have we seen over 1,500 graduate from our classes, but we also have research that shows us that those participants have experienced statistically significant improvements in resilience, sense of purpose, sense of belonging, self-esteem and self discovery,” Jenkins said.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics show military suicides are up as much as 25%.
“The last 18 months have been extremely challenging for all of us and they’ve also been particularly challenging for the military community,” Jenkins said. “Veterans have faced even higher levels of social isolation and adverse mental health outcomes than the general population during the pandemic. Part of why the work we do is so important is that we put veterans and their families into small classrooms of just 12 people where there are folks who have common experiences, they understand one another and so there is an instant bond. ASAP classrooms are a space where people can learn a new skill, find a new community and express themselves.”
While the last year has been difficult, Jenkins says it has allowed ASAP to adapt and reach even more veterans across the country.
“The last 18 months have been extremely challenging,” Jenkins said. “But one exciting development that has come out of the last 18 months is that we have been able to start to offer our programs to veterans located anywhere, including the state of Louisiana. That has been incredible being able to bring veterans into the fold and become a part of this community from all across the country.”
They have members from 45 states and five countries, including participants across Louisiana.
ASAP classes and workshops are free, you can apply here.
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