Tammy believes she was destined to do her job.
Growing up in Nashville, Tammy had a cousin named Letitia who was mentally challenged. Tammy and other family members were Letitia’s constant helpers and protectors.
“Wherever we went as kids, she went with us,” Tammy recalls. “I was always on the defensive when people talked about people with disabilities. If they would stare, I would ask them, ‘What are you looking at?’ I probably even got in some fights over it.”
Today, Tammy is a production associate team leader in Goodwill’s donation processing warehouse in Nashville. For the last four years, she has worked with a unique group of about 30 Goodwill team members. These employees, known as the A-Team, all have learning disabilities.
Tammy works alongside A-Team members and provides supervision as needed. But even more important is the emotional support she gives. She listens to their problems, helps them when they make a mistake and comforts them when they cry.
One 58-year-old A-Team member writes Tammy love notes every day. She has a box full of them on her desk. They say things like, “Always and forever, dream come true.” Sometimes he gets upset about minor problems, and only Tammy can talk him through them.
Tammy helps provide birthday and holiday parties for the group, and calls their guardians to let them know when they feel ill.
“It’s a big family. They love me,” she says, smiling. “The welcome I receive when I come in every day makes me know I am special to them.
“Because of my cousin, I always knew I working with people with mental challenges was something I could handle, but I never knew I would enjoy it this much,” she adds.
There have been other signs that Tammy was meant to be in her job.
Recently one of the female A-Team members brought in her old school yearbook. She wanted to show Tammy that other members of the A-Team were in her class. Inside, Tammy found a photo that included her mother, aunt and her cousin Letitia, who died at age 30, having lunch at the school.Then, there is Tammy’s own Goodwill story.
Tammy dropped out of high school after getting pregnant in the 11th grade. Soon, she was a single mother with four children and no job. Her children had a caring and supportive father, although he and Tammy had broken up. Then, on Memorial Day of 2000, he was killed in a domestic violence incident.
“At that point, I just felt like I needed to do more for my kids so they could be proud of me,” Tammy says.
Her first step was going to Goodwill Career Solutions for help finding a job. That led to Tammy being hired as a clothing tagger the Nashville processing warehouse. She has since been promoted and has now been with Goodwill for 15 years.
“Tammy is kind and supportive to all the people she comes in contact with in her daily routine,” said her co-worker, Erika Hellerman. “She makes sure that the A-Team are not only are succeeding at work, but she pays attention to behavioral and emotional subtleties that can be significant if not addressed. She more than supervises them — she loves them.”
What Tammy has paid forward, she has also received. Today, she is married, owns her own home and is raising one of her grandchildren. She is also taking classes two afternoons a week to pass the high school equivalency test through a program offered at Goodwill. She said her children are very proud of her.
“Goodwill changed my life by giving me this opportunity,” she says. “I am proud of the work that I do. Whenever an A-Team member calls my name or asks me a question. I feel like I am the teacher and they are the student.”
Because you donate to Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, I am helping change the lives of people with learning disabilities. It’s a rewarding job I was meant to do. Thank you!
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— By Chris Fletcher
Prior to joining Goodwill as its PR & Communications Manager in 2014, Fletcher was a professional journalist for
more than 25 years working at media outlets in three states, including the Associated Press.