The Armed Services Arts Partnership, a nonprofit that mounts arts programs for veterans and military families, will begin offering a free veterans’ writing seminar and comedy boot camp at Georgetown this September.
Specifically geared toward veterans at Georgetown, the programs will take the form of weekend-long workshops and will be taught by Ron Capps, a renowned veteran author, and Chris Coccia, lead instructor of Five Minutes to Funny at D.C. Improv.
According to ASAP Director of Operations Megan Brew, the programs benefit veterans and military families by facilitating the veterans’ artistic expression through comedy, writing and music.
“Our primary goal is to foster the development of our participating veterans’ expressive skills, allowing them to become better writers, musicians and comedians,” Brew wrote in an email to The Hoya. “In the process, veterans, service members and military families establish relationships with one another and begin to form supportive communities around these specific areas of common interest.”
After losing an uncle to suicide while in high school and learning of high suicide rates among veterans, Sam Pressler translated his experience into ASAP, using comedy as a coping mechanism, to launch a comedy class for veterans at the College of William and Mary.
After the class became successful, Pressler ventured into the areas of writing and music, transforming ASAP as a nonprofit and expanding his existing model into new communities with high military populations. ASAP was awarded the Echoing Green Global Fellowship in June as one of 50 global nonprofits “changing the world” in 2015.
Brew said that the positive impact of comedy, music and writing classes on veterans extends to veterans’ families and communities, observations that are rooted in scientific research.
“There is a growing body of academic research that links literary, musical and comedic expression to boosts in resilience and increases in well-being,” Brew wrote. “We are measuring the impact of our particular approach in facilitating these outcomes and also improving relationships with family, community members, classmates and employers.”
At Georgetown, the programs will be open for registration to veterans and military families. The nonprofit is collaborating with Veterans Office Director LeNaya Hezel and Special Programs and Group Initiatives Director Mary Dhuly to facilitate programming and coordinate logistics.
Additionally, ASAP is working closely with the Georgetown University Student Veterans Association to further engage nonveteran students, who will have the opportunity to sign up to be volunteers in the workshops.
Brew emphasized that expanding to Georgetown was a natural move due to the high population of servicemen in the District.
“With one of the largest military populations in the country, and huge existing demand for our classes from D.C. area veterans, establishing our second community in D.C. became a no-brainer,” Brew wrote.
Georgetown ranked as the No. 1 school for veterans in the country in the 2015 U.S. News & World Report. Despite dropping to No. 16 on the recently released ranking this year due to a change in the qualifications process, Brew notes that there is a strong tradition of volunteer involvement, particularly for veteran causes.
“The university was recently ranked the best school for veterans in the country,” Brew wrote. “Volunteer involvement is also hugely important to our work, and Georgetown’s reputation of having service-minded students and faculty made it an even more appealing partner.”
According to Zach Busch (SFS ’16), a student representative for ASAP at Georgetown, the nonprofit serves to better connect the Georgetown student body with the United States Armed Forces. Busch, who was drawn to the organization as he grew up around military families, also said that students can contribute to the program in a variety of ways.
“Hoyas are intelligent, enthusiastic and motivated people and have a lot to offer a program like ASAP,” Busch wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Apart from the efforts of a couple of very dedicated student groups, such as Hoyas for Troops, which does great work, and of course, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the Georgetown community as a whole is a little disconnected from our armed forces and our veterans.”
From an artistic perspective, Busch also emphasized that Georgetown fosters artistic talent that can be channeled into positive avenues in ASAP.
“When it comes to bridging a community gap between Georgetown students and our armed forces, art can do what ordinary conversation cannot — create a shared experience,” Busch wrote.
According to Shannon Smith, a U.S. Navy veteran, ASAP provided an opportunity for him to grow his writing skills. Smith also commended the participation of young people in ASAP’s programs.
“It’s amazingly thoughtful and kind that people out there — particularly young people — want to help veterans get our stories out there,” Smith wrote in a testimonial on ASAP’s website. “It’s not just valuable writing instruction — it’s tangible proof that people out there actually care. I was blown away by that.”
Jim Cornish, a U.S. Army veteran, noted how ASAP helped him to cope with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When my helicopter was shot down by enemy gunfire and my co-pilot was killed, it seems like just yesterday. I relive it just about everyday and suffer greatly with chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Cornish wrote on the ASAP website. “My music instructor knows that I am a war veteran and is very considerate in our progress.”
According to Busch, ASAP’s arrival at Georgetown provides an exciting opportunity for veterans and students alike.
“We can learn a lot from these veterans and put our own ambitions into perspective. So volunteering with a group like ASAP doesn’t just help veterans, it also helps Hoyas on a humanistic level,” Busch wrote.