Donna and Kevin Gardner are the type of people you want to be your neighbors. They are kind, giving, fun, outrageously helpful, and truly hospitable individuals. Kevin, from Marceline, a small town in Missouri, and Donna, originally from Scotland, the couple of 25 years, call Texas home for most of the year and feel fortunate they can now spend as much time as possible at their mountain home in Breckenridge. This month’s donor spotlight features these two charismatic individuals, how they’ve joined Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) Circle of Support level of giving through their company Stingray Worldwide, and their individual efforts to support BOEC through a new giving fund – The Robert Ayers Fund, in memory of Kevin’s uncle who was an accomplished outdoorsman who lived with quadriplegia for 27 years.

Kevin and Donna Gardner pose for a photo

Kevin and Donna Gardner have joined BOEC's Circle of Support level of giving through their company Stingray Worldwide plus some individual efforts.

Donna Gardner entertains guests at Fiesta For BOEC

Donna entertains guests at the Stingray Worldwide table at Fiesta for BOEC.

Kevin and Donna both agree that BOEC first caught their attention because of the signature green ski jackets they would see out on the hill at Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper Mountain Ski Resorts. Kevin shared, “We would be riding the chairlift up Peak 8 or 9 in Breckenridge and watch the lessons from above and think to ourselves, ‘Wow,’ that’s so cool that these people wearing the green jackets are helping all sorts of individuals to have access to the hill in the way they need it.”

Then serendipitously, while skiing one day, Donna and Kevin met one of those green jackets, who just so happened to be a BOEC Ski Instructor. Nicholas Melotte was eager to share more about all the wonderful work BOEC does both on the slopes in the winter and at our Wilderness Program Site in the summer. Nick’s congeniality and passion for all that is BOEC left quite an impression on the Gardners, inspiring them to learn more about the organization and the people we serve. Later that day, Kevin and Donna sent a very generous donation, all in honor of Mr. Melotte.

“Kevin and I had briefly met at Christy Sports in passing one evening when he was coming in to get rentals for his kids,” said Melotte. A few days later, we bumped into each other again on the ski slope and he offered to buy me lunch. Over lunch, Kevin asked about what brought me to Colorado from Wisconsin and that’s where the BOEC came in. I shared with him my story of how I came to the BOEC and he mentioned how he had seen so many green jackets on the mountain and was very curious about the work we did and what kind of populations the BOEC served in the winter. As Kevin became more and more curious, we started to discuss the many amazing activities BOEC also organizes in the summer at our Wilderness Site and out in the field. As we finished our lunch, he asked me who to get in contact with and where he could go to get more information. That’s when I referred him to Hallie and our amazing website, and the rest is history!”

BOEC Interns pose with the training dummy

BOEC Interns pose with the training dummy. The signature green jackets are what first caught the attention of Donna and Kevin.

BOEC Ski Instructor Nick Melotte tethers an adaptive ski participant

BOEC Ski Instructor Nick Melotte tethers an adaptive ski participant. Nick's chance meeting with Kevin and Donna sparked a relationship with the BOEC.

This act of generosity ran up the lines of BOEC’s administration team, sparking curiosity in the mind of Development Manager Hallie Jaeger. Hallie picked up the phone to call Nick and inquire what he did to solicit such an amazing response. “Thank you,” she said. “What did you do? Who are the Gardners!?”

Nick responded that he genuinely just shared the story of what the BOEC is. “I’ve seen some amazing things happen on the slopes and out in the woods. What I feel is the amazing thing, is the simple opportunity to get outdoors. That’s what I do as an instructor at the BOEC, that’s what we do at the BOEC. We provide the opportunity.”

The Gardners, it appears, are the kind of people who decide they want to help and then take action. They not only ran into Nick, learned about the BOEC, and said they’d follow up, but also took immediate action, made a donation, and reached out to the development and marketing team to learn more about how they could get involved.

Kevin and Donna worked hard to build their print manufacturing business from the ground up, and Kevin’s down-to-earth entrepreneurial spirit shined through as he quickly jumped aboard to brainstorm where their company, Stingray Worldwide, could help meet BOEC’s needs.

The timing aligned well with two of BOEC’s fundraising events needing products that Stingray was able to source from their suppliers and add custom touches to, including the pint glasses for Fiesta for BOEC and golf shirts for the 13th Annual Tee It Up Golf Scramble, in which they are the official shirt provider. Having Stingray Worldwide as a partner has not only improved the quality of products BOEC uses, but the generous prices are an added bonus. Plus, having the Gardners host a table at Fiesta for BOEC and registering a golf foursome at Tee It Up adds to the fun!

Fiesta for BOEC Table Setup

An example of the table set up for the Fiesta for BOEC fundraiser. Kevin and Donna's company, Stingray Worldwide, provided the pint glasses for this event.

The Stingray Worldwide table at Fiesta for BOEC

The Stingray Worldwide table at Fiesta for BOEC.

Beyond this business partnership, however, is a deep connection to giving back that both the BOEC and the Gardners can be proud of.

“When you work hard and are fortunate enough to reach a point of success, it’s a wonderful feeling, one we don’t take for granted,” says Donna. “We’ve always been cognizant of those around us that are not in such a fortunate place as we are. Years ago, one way we chose to invest in our children was by sharing the needs out there in the world that they were not exposed to in the hopes that they would become caring and giving adults with a genuine heart for others. That time spent building character in them in turn heightened our resolve. Funny how that works! We firmly believe that there’s no ‘coincidence’ that we bump into opportunities like this. These are providence and we are called to be involved. It’s a huge bonus when we find a need or organization that aligns with our hearts and allows us to keep growing while helping them grow too.”

BOEC is grateful that the Gardners care so deeply about our organization. Donna shares, “BOEC hits on all of the points we feel are important to us, as they work to give people a different perspective on life. It creates that with not just the individuals who participate but also the families, as they get to see their loved ones flourish and gain confidence. The volunteers find new joy in their lives by just being involved in such a giving environment. We can’t think of a better way to share our resources.”

To augment their dedication to BOEC, Kevin popped into the Administration Headquarters this past April to finalize some details about Stingray Worldwide becoming a Circle of Support partner. At this time he also toured the Logistics Center, an impressive site complete with its massive gear storage garages. This is where BOEC’s administrative offices are also located, including employee housing and three bays to store Wilderness Program equipment, including camping gear, adaptive cycles, rafts, paddles, canoes, and even a 6-foot- wide SOL Paddle Board party barge.

Marveling at all the gear, Kevin inquired, “So, can you take anyone down the river?”

Robert Ayers, a paraplegic, goes fishing

Kevin's uncle, Robert Ayers, goes fishing. A dive into a creek at 30 years old left Robert a quadriplegic. Kevin and Donna Gardner recently started the Robert Ayers Fund to support BOEC programs dedicated to serving participants with quadriplegia, paraplegia, or any cognitive disabilities.

BOEC's Logistics Center

BOEC's Logistics Center houses rafts, paddles, canoes, camping gear, adaptive cycles and more. It was during his tour of the warehouse that Kevin realized the breadth of what the BOEC does for people with disabilities and special needs.

This inspired the sharing of stories about how BOEC exists to expand access to the outdoors, despite an individual’s special need or disability. Our staff is trained to meet our participants where they are at, essentially adapting to meet their needs so that the wilderness can be enjoyed by all. That is the magic of BOEC.

This led to a heartwarming connection shared about Amber Rangel, featured in this month’s newsletter, an active outdoorswoman who also has a C5 quadriplegic injury due to a water skiing accident in her early twenties. We spoke of Amber’s courage on the river, and a heavy feeling ascended over Kevin while peering over the paddles and imagining the endless possibilities hanging throughout the garage.

At this point, Kevin shared that his uncle, Robert Ayers, a man he looked up to his entire life, was an avid outdoorsman and endured a dive into a creek at 30 years old, which left him a quadriplegic. Robert’s injury, however, did not prevent him from being an active member of society, a dedicated family man, or keep him from his love of fishing. This attitude over circumstance mentality that Kevin’s uncle Robert adopted is the very soul of the BOEC.

This is why Donna and Kevin are excited to announce the launch of the Robert Ayers Fund benefiting the BOEC. This fund commences a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign to bring more awareness to the Gardner’s network about how BOEC changes lives. Whether teaching someone how to mono-ski post injury or accident or helping children with cognitive differences meet new heights, donations to the Robert Ayers Fund will support BOEC programs dedicated to serving participants with quadriplegia, paraplegia, or any cognitive disabilities. It’s a tribute to the Gardners that they believe so strongly in the BOEC mission that they are willing to share this belief with their friends and ask for support.

We thank you, Donna and Kevin, for showing up with your corporate partnership, event support, set up of the Robert Ayers Fund, and connecting us to your network! We’re grateful for your generosity and we’re eager to share the impact you are making for years to come.

For more information on how you can donate to the BOEC or become a Circle of Support member, please reach out to Development Manager Hallie Jaeger at [email protected] or call 970-453-6422.