National nonprofit founded in Hampton Roads helping veterans through art


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A national nonprofit with local roots is showing gratitude to those who served in the military through art.

But their mission is just to show gratitude, it’s to help service members through challenges in their lives.

It’s called the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) and is all about using things like stand-up comedy, improv, and creative writing to help veterans through a change, whether that’s getting out of the military or coming back from a deployment.

In one local veteran’s case, it helped her through trauma.

Danitza James joined the U.S. Army in 2001. She deployed twice and got out in 2006.

“There was some military sexual assault trauma that I experienced while in the service,” said James. “I really felt that if I deployed again, with the unit, the toxic environment that I was in, that I wasn’t going to make it back.”

James put all of her feelings about her trauma and the military into a box. It wasn’t until she found ASAP that she started to work through them by taking a creative writing class.

“It really allowed for me to put all the weight of the trauma that I was carrying onto a piece of paper and leave it there,” said James. “Then I could come back and revisit it at my own pace to kind of process it in small pieces versus having to carry it all in my mind all day long.”

Helping veterans, whether it’s with trauma or transitioning into civilian life, is what ASAP is all about.

“The arts are such a powerful way for us to process our own experiences and also to share community with one another and to be seen and feel seen,” said Brian Jenkins, ASAP executive director. “We’re a creative community where people can thrive, regardless of whether they’re looking to build new friendships, brush up on some new skills, challenge themselves in a new way or even start a new career in the arts.”

ASAP was founded in Hampton Roads in 2015. It’s not therapy, but Jenkins says their research shows their programs work.

“We are seeing that our programs have therapeutic benefits and help to reduce participant stress, depression and anxiety, those kinds of things that are challenges far too many veterans in this country face,” said Jenkins.

ASAP, along with James, was also instrumental in the creation of a new mural in Virginia Beach. It was part of the ViBe Creative District’s Mural Festival and pays tribute to victims of military sexual trauma.

It’s a tribute James is proud to see, especially on Veterans Day.

“We’re human first. We are veterans second. No matter what our branch is, no matter our background, our struggles, our trauma, we served our country and that’s all that matters,” said James.

This Veterans Day, ASAP hopes people will consider donating. All of their classes are free. Their goal is to provide classes for at least 1,000 veterans in the next year.

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