2019 Top Business

Melmark New England and Rita M. Gardner, President and CEO Make List

Melmark New England and Rita M. Gardner, President and CEO of Melmark, Inc. has just been named #37 on The Commonwealth Institute’s (TCI) list of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts for 2019. This is the second consecutive year Melmark and Gardner have made the list, which includes a Who’s Who of business leaders from across the state of Massachusetts. TCI, a nonprofit supporting female business leaders, announced the list at a suspense-filled awards breakfast this morning. The list, now in its 18th year, appears in the Women and Power edition of The Boston Globe Magazine.


Rita M. Gardner, M.P.H., LABA, BCBA leads Melmark’s $95-million multi-state operations across all of its divisions. Melmark’s programs include premier private special education schools, professional development, training and research centers in Andover, Massachusetts, Berwyn, Pennsylvania and Charlotte, North Carolina. The organization’s clinically-sophisticated evidence-based programs serve individuals with the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, acquired brain injuries, medical fragility and severe challenging behaviors.


Gardner, who is the co-founder of Melmark New England and Melmark Carolinas, has devoted 35 years to non-profit management in the field of community-based services for children and adults. Among the top of her field, Gardner has been involved in the organization, design, development and implementation of over 100 community-based programs for children and adults. Her professional experience is focused on high level organizational design using her skills in child advocacy, clinical practice, health service administration, legal issues, public policy and fundraising. Her demonstrated focus on fiscal prudence, ability to build bridges with funding sources, and experience in the development and ongoing maintenance of donor relationships, ensures the future of services for individuals with intellectual disabilities, at Melmark and beyond.

Gardner is known throughout the disability community as a tireless advocate for services for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and autism, with a particular focus on public policy. She has provided project consultation to nationally-renowned organizations and was appointed to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s Special Commission Relative to Autism in 2010. She continues to serve in that capacity, appointed by the current Governor Charles Baker. She has testified before the legislature on numerous issues related to Autism Spectrum Disorders, written articles for professional journals, and made a number of presentations on topics ranging from program expansion and behavior management to transitioning students with brain injury back into the community.


Gardner also volunteers her time working to create opportunities for skills growth and advancement for women in the field of human services. She does this through her work with CASP (Council of Autism Service Providers), for which she and Melmark are founding members; her leadership role as a board member of maaps (Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools); and her vital role in WIBA (Women in Behavior Analysis), for which she shares her time and expertise as a mentor.


In 2018, Melmark New England gained the #35 spot on the prestigious Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts. She is humbled to receive the recognition a second year in a row. “This award recognizes the abilities, dedication and compassion of each member of Melmark’s highly skilled workforce, female and male. I am grateful to lead this incredible team on such an important mission,” said Gardner. “It is an honor for Melmark New England to be included alongside such a remarkable list of business leaders,” she added.


Gardner received her Master of Public Health degree from Boston University’s School of Public Health in the School of Medicine. Most important, she holds the heart of Melmark’s mission at the core of her professional standards. She is dedicated to every child, adult and family served at Melmark, as well as every member of Melmark’s professional staff. Recognized as one of the leading providers in the country, Melmark has a combined staff of over 1,200 and serves 1,000 individuals from across the country.

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