2020 Top 100 Business

Melmark President and CEO Honored for Third Consecutive Year

November 9, 2020 / Andover, MA, Berwyn, PA, Charlotte, NC


Rita M. Gardner, President and CEO of Melmark, Inc. has been named #38 on The Commonwealth Institute’s (TCI) list of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts for 2020. This is the third consecutive year Gardner and Melmark 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 virtual awards ceremony on November 6, 2020. The list, now in its 19th 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 more than 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 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 women’s leadership, ethics, 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 as a President of maaps (Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools), with CASP (Council of Autism Service Providers), for which she and Melmark are founding members; and her vital role in WIBA (Women in Behavior Analysis), for which she shares her time and expertise as a mentor and was the opening keynote speaker at the organization’s 2020 Conference.


Gardner says she is humbled to be recognized as leading one of the top 100 women-led businesses in Massachusetts, especially given this year’s unique obstacles. “This year in particular has been extremely challenging, due to COVID-19 mitigation measures to keep the individuals who attend Melmark’s day, in-person school, and residential programs, as well as our staff, healthy and safe,” said Gardner. “It is an honor to lead such a dedicated, compassionate and highly skilled team – they are my heroes – as they work to ensure a continuum of children and adult services to all who attend Melmark’s programs.”


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.