When Tamaria Bridgeforth, a Senior Project Manager at FedEx, first heard about the work the Green Dot Mentorship Program was doing at Hillcrest High School in Memphis, TN, immediately knew she wanted to be a mentor. After all, Bridgeforth knows firsthand the difference a mentor can make in the life of a young person.
A native Memphian, growing up Bridgeforth struggled to find purpose amid the struggles of inner city life. She was enrolled at Fairley High School, but admits school was not her priority. In fact, her initial introduction to Hillcrest High School came as a result of having to take make-up classes during the summer.
When time came for graduation, Tamaria received a diploma from Fairley, but she had little ambition for what she wanted to do with her future. Without much direction, she followed her cousin to the Air Force, a decision that would ultimately define her career path and change her life.
“[The Air Force] changed the way I developed as a person,” Bridgeforth recounts. “I traveled the world; I met different people from different backgrounds. It totally changed my perspective of life. I don’t think I would have the same mind frame and opportunities if I wouldn’t have joined.”
Bridgeforth would go on to serve in the Air Force for 21 years, earning a degree in Information Systems Management, while gaining significant executive and operational experience. It was also during her time in the Air Force that Bridgeforth met two mentors who she credits with helping her become the successful businesswoman and mother of two that she is today.
“One is my spiritual mother,” remembers Bridgeforth. “We met in Germany. On a personal level she has helped me become a better woman, a better mother, a better contributor to society. She’s really helped, and I know for a fact I wouldn’t have met her if I wouldn’t have been in the military. Professionally, I would have to say Chief Pedro. She was one of our supervisors about nine years ago. She’s an amazing superstar, the epitome of what I would want to be when I grow up as a woman. She’s an amazing dynamic leader, who gains respect in any room she goes to.”
Her experiences with both women not only showed Bridgeforth how much good she could do to affect other people's lives, but also instilled in her a passion for mentorship that eventually led her back to Hillcrest High School where today she volunteers as a mentor through the Green Dot Mentorship Program.
“When I saw the program [I thought] this is the perfect example to me because I was one of those kids,” Bridgeforth explains. “I understand the mind frame of the kids at Hillcrest because I went to Hillcrest, I went to Fairley.”
She goes on to add, “To me mentorship is about giving back to people. I feel that probably, hopefully, I’ll run across a child like me and can help them think in a different way - that I can probably change the outcome of their life. I like mentorship because it’s instilling in a child the idea that I have a grown-up that can help me.”
Today, the Green Dot Mentorship Program serves over 300 students, in two schools - Hillcrest High School in Tennessee and Animo City of Champions in California - with the vision of expanding to even more schools next year. Tamaria Bridgeforth is one of 65 mentors participating in the program, and her employer, FedEx, is one of the program’s participants. Bridgeforth is grateful to work for a company that is just as committed to mentorship and serving the community as she is.
“FedEx is amazing,” said Bridgeforth. "From the moment I joined on board I knew it was the right company [for me]. It sounds weird to say that I work in a place that I call my family, but from my managers, directors and vice presidents, I’ve met all of them. They are amazing, down-to-earth, really helpful people as far as developing and pushing us to be more. They foster that environment; they allow you to do things outside of work. During duty hours they don’t have an issue with it and I love it.”
Now, two years removed from her career in the Air Force, when Bridgeforth reflects on her life path she is happy to be where she is, and eager to share her journey with others. Most importantly, she knows that empowering the next generation of Hillcrest students starts with the little things.
“I feel that all it takes is one conversation, one statement, one comment, you know. One compliment can change a person’s life. So, I think it’s going really well and I enjoy it.”