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.
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.”
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?
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.