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2022 Jun

Arts Opportunities for Veterans

Discover a creative community just for military personnel, vets, and their families

This month we meet two women who are passionate about sharing the arts with veterans and members of U.S. Armed Services. Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) is a creative community where veterans thrive through the arts. The organization provides free art and comedy classes to veterans, service members, military family members, and caregivers. Sherri Priester works at Otto Advertising, and Kristen Howard is a mom, a Navy wife, and a disabled veteran.

TFP: What is your mission?
SP: The mission of The Armed Services Arts Partnership is to spark creativity and connection. We do this through the restorative power of comedy, storytelling, and artistic expression.

TFP: Why does your work matter?
KH: ASAP classes combat isolation. With ASAP, veterans rediscover the bonds of their service and become part of a community with common experiences. Our alumni don’t just gain new skills; they gain confidence, purpose, and community.

TFP: What types of classes are offered?
SP: Acting, Storytelling, Improv, Drawing, Stand-Up Comedy, and Writing. Classes are 6-weeks long, taught by veterans for veterans, and finish with a graduation show. After graduating, alumni have the chance to continue workshopping and performing through community.

TFP: Describe what you do for ASAP.
SP: As Stand-Up Comedy Bootcamp Instructors, we provide direction on joke structure, stage etiquette, mentor students, and prepare them for their graduation show. But our contact doesn’t end there. Kristen was one of my instructors. Now we teach and perform regularly together and have become great friends. ASAP provides more than a class; it provides community.

TFP: How have ASAP’s programs impacted and improved veterans’ well-being?
KH: A research study confirmed what we saw happening with each student. Their confidence and self-esteem grew with each class, and they were able to accomplish the scary feat of performing in front of a crowd. Each class offers skill development which can be applied to daily life. Participants are able to see life as meaningful and interesting—and something that they have agency over—which is critical to facilitating improved quality of life.

SP: You don’t just take a class with ASAP; you join a community which provides social support and belonging, both in and outside of the classroom. This sense of belonging—and the inclusive sense of community ASAP facilitates—connects participants long after classes have ended.
Participants say that ASAP classes are “healing” experiences, allowing people to try something new, reconnect with the military community, and regain that sense of belonging.

TFP: What is your background in stand-up comedy?
KP & SP: Prior to ASAP, we had none—except making people laugh but not intentionally. That’s the beauty of ASAP. No experience is required. Yes, we always thought we were funny, but being funny on purpose, on stage, was something entirely different and terrifying. ASAP offered a free class to spouses. This allowed us to explore stand-up comedy, which has now provided a path to greater opportunities through the area. We both now perform regularly at comedy clubs and shows.

SP: My husband had retired, my children move out, and I decided to chase a dream I’d had secretly for years. At 50 years old I joined ASAP, 6 weeks later I step on stage and told jokes to a room full of strangers, and it was fabulous. You’re never too old to chase a dream.

KH: I had just given birth to my 4th child and was looking for something to get me out of the house. So, I signed up for a free class. I wasn’t expecting the comradery I found, and I have been involved with ASAP every sense. Through ASAP we’ve had to opportunity to work with and meet touring comics such as PJ Walsh, Matt Iseman, Laurie Kilmartin, Aparna Nancherla, and Dion Flynn.

TFP: How can people take a class?
KH: Visit asapasap.org’s program page and select the program you’re most interested in. Applications are always open, and classes occur in the spring, summer, and fall. If you can’t make a class in person, virtual classes are also available.

TFP: How can people support ASAP?
SP: There are so many ways. Attend a show, book a show, donate, and volunteer.
You can find upcoming shows on https://asapasap.org/attend-a-show/ or https://asapasap.org/book-a-show/ if you have an event and need entertainment. Our veterans have performed locally and nationally at comedy clubs, improv theatres, and multiple community events.

ASAP Alumni are experienced professionals eager to entertain your guests at your next meeting, retreat, or party. You can book a show at https://asapasap.org/book-a-show/. We always need extra hands so consider volunteering your time https://asapasap.org/volunteer/. We’re always accepting donations (https://asapasap.org/donate/). The more we can generate, the more we give back to our military community, who have given so much for us.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and publisher of Tidewater Family Plus magazine. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com

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