Education, inspiration: Gardner launches Foundation
Aussie and Sixers allrounder's initiative hopes to help more Indigenous Aussie kids stay in school
13 November 2020, 10:51 AM AEST
Ashleigh Gardner is the first to admit she was not the model student, but she is determined to make sure the next generation of Indigenous students are given every possible chance to thrive when it comes to education.
The Sydney Sixers and Australia allrounder, and proudwoman, launched a Foundation this year, which aims to provide a healthy start to the school day for Aboriginal kids.
She is starting small with the Ashleigh Gardner Foundation, focusing on a select number of schools in regional New South Wales, but has a vision of one day building it into an Australia-wide initiative.
"The big dream is to increase the percentage of Aboriginal kids finishing school," Gardner told The Scoop podcast this week. "I think education is the most important thing for young kids to have.
"Sport's great and it's what I do, and I probably didn't pay enough attention in school myself, but I'm pretty fortunate with where I am .
"The foundation will implement a breakfast club program, because I think the most important thing for these kids is to have a healthy, good to start their day, so they can concentrate in class."
Launching a foundation has long been an idea sitting at the back of Gardner's mind, but the 23-year-old was unsure how to turn the vision into a reality.
The COVID19 lockdown saw her take on a business course, which in turn sparked a conversation with her Cricket NSW player development manager – and the Ashleigh Gardner Foundation was born.
As well as a breakfast club, children in the program will be provided with resources aimed at nurturing their enthusiasm for both sport and creative arts.
“Pride to me is standing up for what I believe in…I have a role to educate and make people more aware of our culture.” -Ashleigh Gardner pic.twitter.com/i2vMGEW3GG— Australian Women's Cricket Team 🏏 (@AusWomenCricket) November 9, 2020
The latter is something Gardner has only recently embraced herself, after taking up dot painting during the lockdown period.
"They'll be provided with the sporting kit so they have access to unstructured play for about 40 minutes before school," she explained.
"I thought that was really important because kids are always told what to do, so if you can have unstructured play, I bet those kids will have heaps of fun. "I'm also relating it to my art as well, giving them an opportunity to colour in or paint, because not all kids are sporty. "It's all about trying to empower the community and create positive mindsets for those kids, and start a trend that will hopefully work through generations to one day increase that number of kids finishing school."
The Foundation is no token gesture; Gardner is determined to do it properly, hence the small initial roll-out.Funds raised for the Foundation will help support its running, given Gardner's cricket commitments make it difficult for her to take on the day-to-day running of the program. "I would love to it to be nation-wide one day," she said."For now we want to keep it pretty small to make sure we do it right and do it perfectly, so realistically within the next couple of years I'll be targeting three to six schools in regional NSW. "Something I'll need help in doing is the financial side of things, to be able to implement the program and being able to employ people as well to run the Foundation while I'm playing cricket – it will be tough to try and do both."
This weekend, the Rebel WBBL will celebrate the First Nations Festival of Cricket as part of NAIDOC week.
Between training and games in the WBBL Village at Sydney Olympic Park, Gardner has been busy putting her artistic skills to use, designing artwork on the shoes of players including Alyssa Healy, Sophie Devine and Erin Burns.
Sophie explains how she got her hands on a pair as well as the meaning behind Ashleigh’s artwork pic.twitter.com/OvY609f6gm— Rebel Women's Big Bash League (@WBBL) November 11, 2020
"When I found out that NAIDOC week would happen while we were in the hub, I mentioned (the idea) to Maitlan Brown and Erin Burns," Gardner explained.
"They jumped on board straight away.
"I started with Maitlan and those turned out pretty cool and then I did my own and then a couple of other people jumped on board. I think it's just really cool to showcase the culture.
"I did seven pairs of shoes within four or five days … the shoes only took about an hour to an hour-and-a-half but it's just trying to think about what designs I actually want to put on them that takes the longest."
Ashleigh Gardner and Hannah Darlington appeared on the new episode of Cricket Connecting Country, which premiered on Cricket Australia's YouTube channel on Thursday Nov 12