Q&A: Melmark’s Rita Gardner

The nonprofit’s president shares her passions.


When Rita Gardner was in sixth grade, a new family moved in next door, and one of the children was blind and disabled. Her early exposure to those with disabilities meant she never gave it a second thought. Now the president of Berwyn’s Melmark, Gardner continues to be a champion for this population.

Rita Gardner’s Favorite Things

1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. “It’s about the friendship between a girl and a young boy who is disabled. It’s also set in an old garden that’s falling apart that they bring back to life. I love working in the garden.”

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2. Autograph Brasserie. “It’s beautifully decorated.”

3. College ice hockey. “My son plays college hockey. I’m a huge Brown University fan, but I also watch Boston University.”

4. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. “Most of the island is a national park, and it’s just so pristine.”

5. Bonnie Raitt’s Luck of the Draw. “I love her music, her songs and her writing. I love a good songwriter.”

MLT: What inspired you about Melmark?

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RG: I come from a family of 14, and my parents were very religious Roman Catholics. We volunteered with children with disabilities for as long as I can remember. Back in the day, there was a philosophy called patterning, which used to help kids with cerebral palsy, in terms of physical motor movement. You would have a child paired with a young child with cerebral palsy. My identical twin and I would volunteer with children who had cerebral palsy as a young person.

MLT: What have you learned from the students at Melmark?

RG: As human beings, we can have tremendous resiliency, and overcoming obstacles is sometimes not made with one giant leap, but sometimes in smaller, daily steps.

MLT: What are your goals for the future?

RG: Our long-term goal is to impact, on a national level, the quality of care in long-term care settings for individuals with disabilities. 

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Visit www.melmark.org.

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