This story is part of a larger feature on 10 do-gooders from Saratoga and the rest of the Capital Region. To meet the other nine honorees and purchase tickets for annual fundraising event, visit our Capital Region Gives Back event page.
Ron Gardner had spent more than 30 years in business consulting and 15 years living in Schenectady, before he was approached by Mayor Gary McCarthy about filling the role of the city’s director of diversity and affirmative action in 2017. “I was shocked,” says Gardner, “because I wasn’t looking for anything. I was perfectly content with my business.” A dialogue opened up between the two men, and several months later, Gardner gave in. The mayor had offered him full support in boosting representation and opportunities throughout the Electric City for minority- and women-owned businesses, and he couldn’t say no.
“It’s been a magnificent journey,” says Gardner of the role. “You really get an opportunity to change people’s lives.” One avenue Gardner sees to effect positive, systemic change in the community is through Schenectady’s youth—and the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, on whose board Gardner sits. A nonprofit promoting African/African-American arts and culture, the center primarily reaches children, many of whom grow up in low-income households and around poverty, violence, drugs and gang activity. Gardner has been personally invested in the center for years, with his kids and grandkids attending programs there. “It’s a very culturally rich facility,” says Gardner.
But Gardner sees an opportunity for the center to grow beyond its current mission. “I want to see them get more involved on the educational component, like STEM, for example,” he says. “We need to have a vehicle where we can introduce our kids to science, technology, engineering and math—and really put an emphasis on that, because that’s the future.”