How did you find ASAP?
“I actually started with ASAP when I was a sophomore when I had heard that Sam had started the writing program. I was abroad, but I was really interested. I had a family member who struggled with PTSD in the past, and it's just something that really hit home for me, so when I got back to school, I just started off as a volunteer with the veterans writing program. From there, Sam quickly reached out to me and asked if there are any other creative programs I would be interested in helping to start. Even though I'm not a music person at all, I know that music has therapeutic power for people, and I love music. I just felt like music was the next venue with which we could do something. So, we brought together a group of people more musical than Sam and myself, and we built from the ground up. We started with individual music lessons, and we quickly realized we wanted to start fostering more of a community feeling, so that's what started our [group] piano and guitar classes. We had to find teachers and TAs. That's kind of the way I got into it, but the group music lessons have been incredible, and they have definitely been a success.”
Can you tell me about a memory you have from working with the veterans in either the writing group or the music group?
“Last year, when we first started the group music lessons it really hit me early on how necessary this program was and how it had been missing from these veterans’ lives for too long. People arrived an hour early--after already having driven an hour from Hampton Roads or other places-- because they were so excited. Just seeing the looks on their faces when they complete a music class, or they finally get that song right, and they come up to you afterwards and say, ‘I've been waiting for this for so long.’ And they mean it, because this is something that has been missing from their lives. A lot of them have been wanting to play guitar, wanting to play piano or just wanting to develop another skill after their service. It's very beneficial. My favorite part about working in this program happened last year when a participant, and a close friend, of the program came to our final ASAP meeting, and presented us all with a little gift. It was his uniform cut up and framed with a note on it that said, 'Time is is the best gift you can give,' and 'An American veteran thanks you,'and I don't think there was a dry eye in the entire meeting. That was the feeling of, you know, we do work hard for this, but it is absolutely worth it, and I would do it a hundred times over.”
What have you learned from ASAP?
“I think overall that the biggest message I have learned throughout this entire process is that the veterans have so much to teach us. They constantly thank us for our time, and I think that was the biggest message for me because throughout this entire thing I've been thinking: ‘The servicemen and servicewomen have done so much for us, and I don't think that this is enough to repay them.’ But what I have learned throughout this process is that time is the best gift you can give. All [that] a lot of these veterans really want is to know that they are cared for and that we care for their service and that we understand the sacrifice that they made. And just by giving up, you know, a typical Saturday or a few hours during the week, to provide them with these music lessons or these writing lessons, that is the best that we can give.”
What can ASAP offer other veterans in the area who are not currently enrolled in any ASAP sessions?
“I would tell them that no matter what service they have done, no matter how long they have served for, everybody is welcome, and everybody I've talked to has really gained a lot from this program. We had a World War II veteran in our writing program, and we have people who were never deployed overseas. Everybody has been able to benefit from these experiences, and they are just so powerful. It's really what you put into it. You get to learn a new skill, you get to bond with people in the area who have been through similar experiences, and it really is just an incredible experience. There's a community that's now built around it. We have kind of an alumni network as well, and it's just something that I think everybody deserves to have.”
Anything else to add?
“It's hard to express how amazing this program is, and I feel like it sounds very cliche, but actually being there really is an unreal experience.. It is hard to put into words, but it's just the most incredible experience I've ever had on campus, and I will be sad to graduate and have to leave the program.”