Charles Hanks is a personal trainer at the Kalamazoo Athletic Club and a graduate student at Western Michigan University (WMU). He received a Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KZCF) Emergency Scholarship in 2023.

Teaching others how to develop healthy lifestyle habits and practices was a goal Charles Hanks set for himself many years ago. After a knee injury in high school landed him in the care of a physical therapist, Hanks, now a personal trainer at the Kalamazoo Athletic Club, discovered an interest in the practice. As the years continued and Hanks pursued his education, he was introduced to occupational therapy (OT). Instantly, he felt a natural draw toward it and appreciated the deeper connection and investment occupational therapists enjoy with their patients. It resonated with him how transformative the practice could be.

“I was like, ‘OT is my thing, I want to do OT,’” Hanks recalled. “From that point on, I knew I wanted to do it. That's what drew me to OT, just having that passion for helping people.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from WMU in 2014, Hanks decided to move forward with obtaining his Doctor of Occupational Therapy. Since then, Hanks has enjoyed his studies and had opportunities to savor new experiences. He has developed valuable relationships with his cohorts and WMU faculty and gleaned new strategies he looks forward to implementing with his future patients. It is these relationships that Hanks reminisces on the most as he reflects on his time in his program, particularly the support he has received from WMU faculty.

“I'm very fortunate to be in the occupational therapy program at Western. The faculty there are amazing.”

- Charles Hanks, KZCF Emergency Scholarship Recipient

“They encouraged and supported me so much, it was like, ‘This is amazing,’” Hanks said. “That would probably be like the fondest memory.”

With four semesters left until he completes his program, Hanks is focusing on the future. His ultimate goal is to bring OT home health to a community-based mental health organization. Although this is something Hanks envisions for the future, he has already begun to engage in the work of bridging mental and physical health together via a partnership with Integrated Services of Kalamazoo (ISK) and the Kalamazoo Athletic Club. Hanks has been a part of ISK since 2018 and has been integral to the creation of a new program called the Individual Self Health Action Plan for Empowerment (InSHAPE). The program allows ISK patients to access a free one-year membership at the Kalamazoo Athletic Club and make full use of their amenities.

“As we know, many with mental health challenges have comorbidities – high blood pressure, obesity, high A1C, risk for diabetes,” Hanks said. “So, we want to try to reduce that as much as we can through the avenue of exercise. Engaging these individuals to be active and care for themselves through exercise is the goal.”

Hanks continues to champion and advocate for community members to live their best lives and prioritize their health daily. Using the tools he is learning through his OT program and the relationships he is cultivating, Hanks hopes to empower Kalamazoo residents to take control of their health outcomes and believe that small changes can make a big impact.

“My whole goal is to give back to the community,” Hanks said. “Just like someone gave me a chance, I want to give someone a chance. I feel like everybody deserves great health care. They deserve the best chance at better health.”

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