Chuck Thomas has a gift for inspiring students. He is the fitness, recreation and special events coordinator at the Portsmouth Campus Student Center. He is also the unofficial cheerleader for anyone who comes through the doors.
Thomas grew up learning the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his mom. “She did her best raising me and my seven sisters on her own,” Thomas said. “Mom didn’t have much money, but she taught us important lessons that have carried me further than anything else ever could have.”
Thomas is TCC’s 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award honoree. The college marks the anniversary of the birth of Dr. King by presenting this award to a staff or faculty member who best exemplifies King’s teachings and example. Thomas will be recognized during a ceremony on Jan. 17 at the Portsmouth Campus Student Center.
“Growing up in Georgia, mom would have us listen to Dr. King and then give a report on what we learned. The things I heard were non-violence, peace, love, respect, dignity and equality,” Thomas said. “As I got older, I realized what those words meant and that’s how I treat anyone walking through our doors – with dignity, respect, customer service and getting them what they need.”
Thomas joined TCC in 2014. Prior to coming to the college, Thomas was with the recreation department for the City of Virginia Beach for 25 years. He is also a proud Navy veteran.
The reason he gives back to the community is that he remembers when he was on the receiving end of people’s kindness. “My teachers and mentors were my guides because I didn’t have a father,” Thomas said. “Now I’m paying it forward and inspiring students to do their best in school and to be active with their physical fitness because that’s a key to reducing stress.”
Thomas is affectionately called “coach” by the many students he mentors and all those who seek him out for life advice.
He was instrumental in helping to launch the Community Feed at TCC on the Portsmouth Campus. Thomas worked from the ground up preparing the space. “Launching the Community Feed was the proudest moment in my career,” he said. “There is such a need for food and TCC is on the front lines meeting urgent needs.”
Thomas also developed “Fit to Feed,” a program that combines fitness with the benefits of the Community Feed. He also participated at “Champions for Change,” a program for young men that provides resources, connections to jobs, and a lot of conversations about dignity and respect.
When he is not mentoring students, Thomas helps senior citizens with their fitness. He started a chair exercise program in his neighborhood and even helped one resident recover from a knee replacement.
“What my mom instilled in me all those years ago has paid off in my adult life. I’m humbled and honored by this award,” he said.
He added, “We are at a time when there is a lot of separation with people. Dr. King made sure we worked through differences and brought people back together. This message is more important now than ever. His work is paying off generations later.”
Thomas sends a shout-out to his mom, Mary Lue, and his wife, Keri Anne, for their part in his success. “When everything is good at home, you feel like you can conquer the world and I’m grateful for all they have done for me.”