The following story originally appeared on the W&M Alumni Magazine website. – Ed.

As a religious studies major at William & Mary, Brian Jenkins ’16 didn’t expect to become executive director of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) by age 24. He certainly didn’t know ASAP would become the largest military arts organization in the country and that he would be honored on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his work five years later.

However, given his track record of community engagement — including his work as a student with Greater City, a student organization addressing homelessness in Williamsburg, which won the university’s Service Organization of the Year Award in 2016 — it is no surprise that Jenkins has been able to touch the lives of many. 

“I spent so much time with student organizations while on campus, and there is such a rich ecosystem of opportunities for William & Mary students to gain new skills and build ventures,” Jenkins says. “I think that is something I got a lot of value from.” 

He explains that the breadth of the liberal arts curriculum at W&M provided him with a wide range of knowledge that prepared him for the various leadership roles he would take on in the future. 

“As a CEO and as a generalist, having all of these different fields of learning was such a rich stimulation for my own brain and helps me to be more effective at my job today, whether I’m working on programming, finances, research or fundraising,” Jenkins says. 

After graduating in three years, Jenkins became an independent management consultant, a job that brought him to 35 countries in two years while working with nonprofits and international media clients from Kuala Lumpur to Santiago de Chile. In 2019, he landed his current role of executive director at ASAP, an organization dedicated to supporting military veterans through the arts. ASAP provides veterans with free classes in art, acting, writing, comedy and more with the goal of providing a creative outlet and a supportive community.

A person poses for a photo on top of a mountain with Machu Picchu in the background
Jenkins at Machu Picchu (Courtesy photo)

ASAP was founded by another W&M alumnus, Sam Pressler ’15, on campus in 2015, though Jenkins didn’t know him at the time. Jenkins began his involvement with the organization after attending an open mic event for veterans in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. Throughout the performance, Jenkins was struck by how supportive the performers were of each other and how tight-knit this community seemed. 

After the show, Jenkins saw that the group continued to perform even though they had no audience; they simply enjoyed being in each other’s company. 

“I thought to myself, ‘This is a community I would love to be a part of. This is a community I would love to help build,’” Jenkins says. 

He applied to become the program director of ASAP, and although he was a finalist, he didn’t end up getting hired for the position. A short time later, Pressler stepped down as executive director and contacted Jenkins, saying he would be a great fit to replace him. 

Although he was doubtful of his qualifications, Jenkins says, “After Sam sent that email, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get this job.’” 

Jenkins was in Indonesia, but when Pressler reached out, he immediately relocated to Washington, D.C. After volunteering for several of ASAP’s events, getting to know the organization’s leaders and going through the interview process, Jenkins was offered the job of executive director.

A person smiles while standing at a podium
Jenkins spoke at the Military & Veterans Breakfast during Homecoming & Reunion Weekend 2024. (Courtesy photo)

Although he was only 24, he already had significant community-building experience from his faith-based upbringing, his work in student organizations at W&M and his career.

“I’ve worked with many different communities, so even though I didn’t belong to ASAP’s community or their population of military and veterans, I felt confident in my ability to build those relationships and build trust and get to know that culture,” he says.

He says that a lack of community-based spaces for adults to participate in is contributing to the loneliness epidemic plaguing the nation, and creating more of these spaces is vital to encouraging deep connections. 

“The surgeon general says that there’s a crisis of loneliness in this country, and loneliness and social isolation are also big factors in suicidality,” Jenkins says, adding that the veteran suicide rate was 70% higher than that of the civilian population (when adjusted for age and sex), according to the 2023 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

ASAP is seeking to address this. 

“We are creating a container, as it were, for meaningful self-exploration,” Jenkins says. 

At William & Mary, ASAP has contributed to the Veteran-to-Executive (VET) Flourishing Through Life Transitions certificate program, which helps veterans transition to high-level civilian management positions through a holistic approach. Jenkins explains that storytelling training has become an integral part of this program. 

“Storytelling makes you more effective in an interview, it gives you tools to better understand yourself and your life, it makes you more interesting at a party and it helps you better connect with others that you love. It is a skill that translates across our personal and professional lives, and really does embody that ‘flourishing’ that the certificate is all about.”

Jenkins also participated in W&M Professional Development Week 2024, sharing his insights in the virtual session “Modern Leadership: Strategies for Inspirational Team Management.”

A person poses for a photo with the president and first lady of the United States
Jenkins had the opportunity to meet President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden as part of a Veterans Day breakfast at the White House. (Courtesy photo)

ASAP is flourishing under Jenkins’ leadership. After creating virtual events during the pandemic, the organization discovered demand for its programs across the country, reaching participants in all 50 states and active duty service members deployed in five countries. Beyond virtual programs, the organization has expanded its footprint to create chapters in California, Indiana, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. ASAP has served more than 4,000 people since 2015 and more than 1,000 just this year.

To help with this expansion, Jenkins has had many William & Mary interns from the W&M Washington Center. For example, Rebecca Klinger ’22 began as an intern and is now a full-time communications coordinator with ASAP.
 “William & Mary is a tremendous talent pipeline that ASAP is grateful to have access to,” he says.

Jenkins’ 2024 Forbes 30 Under 30 award citation states that Jenkins has helped raise over $3 million for ASAP, in addition to creating partnerships with Amazon, Boeing, Comcast NBC Universal and JPMorgan Chase. 

“Being named to the Forbes list is a huge honor, considering how many people put their care and effort and energy into this mission,” he says. “So, I see it as accepting that honor on behalf of a broader community doing all of this meaningful work. I’m very grateful.”