KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A newly-opened wellness center in downtown Kalamazoo is filling a need the city has had for more than a decade.

The Helping Hands Wellness Center opened Monday on Rose Street near Kalamazoo Avenue. It’s been 13 years since the city of Kalamazoo had a wellness clinic that serves uninsured, at-risk or underserved communities.

“We are a crossroads between I-94 and US-131,” said executive director Threasa Hawkins. “We get an influx, I believe, of individuals who don’t have the healthcare needs that they deserve. Because all Americans — be it local or who come into our community — deserve proper healthcare.”

Her son, Glyn Hawkins, serves as the operations director at Helping Hands and as a public safety officer at the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. Two years ago, he and his friends working in the medical field wondered how to address healthcare disparities they’ve seen in the Kalamazoo area.

“I work for the city of Kalamazoo, so I see disparities in a different light,” Glyn Hawkins explained. “We just came up with this whole concept to approach everyone as their own individual and treat them like an actual individual and a person, not just a number. When you add all that together, that’s what created Helping Hands Wellness Center.”

With a concept created all they needed was an executive director to help lead the way. Glyn Hawkins didn’t have to look beyond the family tree for the right candidate.

Four years ago, Threasa Hawkins retired from nursing at Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital. She was eager to help and get back into the fray after learning her son was turning an aspiration into an opportunity.

“He’s always wanted this. He’s talked about it,” she said.

Kalamazoo hasn’t had a free wellness clinic for the last 13 years. Helping Hands will stay open and operational for at least the next six years, thanks to state grants and a donation from the Stryker Johnston Foundation.

“I opened up the email probably three times just to make sure that it was real,” Glyn Hawkins said with a laugh. “After that it’s just, ‘OK, now what’s the best plan and what is the best strategy to use this money to benefit Kalamazoo city, but also Kalamazoo County?'”

The center will offer free-of-charge services like physical assessments, nutritional coaching, wound care, X-ray imaging and testing for COVID-19, flu, respiratory syncytial virus and sexually transmitted diseases. The wellness center plans to offer substance abuse services in the future.

Helping Hands staff will work with Integrated Services Kalamazoo down the street to offer emotional coaching and mental health services.

“We have a client that comes in, has a physical need, we’re addressing that, and we find that the mental health is becoming more and more … we are referring to ISK,” Threasa Hawkins explained. “As they have a medical need, they will refer down to us from that perspective.”

Around 120 visitors are expected to walk through their doors every week, but the Hawkins and their Helping Hands family are looking to serve more within their walls and beyond.

“We consider ourselves a wellness center, not just an urgent care-type of environment, but more on those lines. We again want to see the whole body,” Threasa Hawkins said. “We’re in a building that’s fully functional. Offices in place, supplies, equipment in place … we’re willing to serve the community.”

Helping Hands Wellness Center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Glyn said they will start opening on Tuesdays and Thursdays once they receive more volunteers and patients coming through their doors.