The Armed Services Arts Partnership is among the seven A3C Action Finalist being recognized at this year's 12 annual A3C Festival & Conference. Sam Pressler, Executive Director of the group, originally started the organization as a college student at William & Mary. He uncovered a long list of challenges veterans face when re-adjusting to civilian life while doing some research for a class assignment, and finding out that the Veteran suicide rate was averaged at 22 people a day didn't sit well with him at all.
Pressler lost his uncle to suicide in high school, which made him recognized the value in comedic relief, as his family would often rely on each other's laughter to ease the pain of troubling times. Luckily, his discovery then has helped hundreds of veterans today. If this worked for him and his loved ones, he figured mental health challenges could also be relieved by comedy. He realized that making people laugh helps foster immediate connections, so he founded a non-profit organization dedicated to doing just that.
The Armed Services Arts Partnership helps veterans find a voice and thrive in their community through arts based classes and performances in Washington, D.C. Their approach is pretty straight forward --- they encourage expression and comradery through stand up comedy, improv, and creative writing. Pressler and his team pride themselves on impacting veterans by providing them with transferable life skills. ASAP works to engage the broader community of people less engaged with the military and encourage conversations about reducing the divide and make ourselves more aware about the impact of war.
When it comes to non-profit work, Pressler considers himself fortunate to have his first real job be something he always dreamed about --- pairing comedy and public service and joining them as one. "I have intense gratitude for the opportunity to make an impact. That alone propels you in a way that I think many other jobs wouldn't, transcending it beyond a job and turning it into a personal purpose," he said in a phone interview.
One his favorite success stories is that of a veteran who struggled with a loss of identity after returning from the military. Hoping it would combat her depression, Isaura Ramirez was unknowingly signed up for ASAP's comedy boot camp by her husband. She made a seamless transition from open fire to open mic by using her war history as content in her stand-up. Pressler shared one of Ramirez's quotes, which read, "Comedy really helps me change my outlook on life. When something bad happens, I think: 'This is going to be great material!' Whereas before, I'd just dwell on it and become more angry!" Now, Ramirez has gone a step further and supports the program by teaching comedy to veterans who are new to ASAP programs.
In the next 5 years, Pressler and the ASAP team hope to find a way to integrate comedy boot camp into the government system. They have big plans of branching out and making a difference in other cities. Most of all, they hope win the $10,000 A3C Action pitch prize and use the money to start their first comedy class in Atlanta!
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