The Founders

Gayla & Donya Gardner

The Twelve Days of Christmas., a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization, was born from a discussion between Gayla Gardner and her eldest daughter Donya about the deep meaning of the Holiday Season and how they always looked forward to family gatherings, good food and the spirit of Christmas. Yet they were aware that many people face Christmas as being just another day of struggle. And the question arose as to how they could make a difference in someone’s holiday. The answer was to take action and along with friends, making a total of twelve people, the first “parties with a purpose” was organized. Each person held a holiday party in their home based on the themes from the “12 Days of Christmas song.” Invited guest were requested to bring a donation: toys, food, clothing, toiletries, books, and ornaments. A local grocery store provided Christmas trees. At the end of the 12 parties, items were sorted and organized and delivered to 6 selected families. There was so much joy at delivery time that it was a renewal of spirit that makes you want to do more.

Gayla Gardner
12DOC_Founders-Gayla_BioImage_1The gift of wisdom comes with age, and thankfully, early enough to prioritize the importance of life choices and the pursuit of making a difference. Simply realizing that the tiny flutter from   butterfly wings affect wind movement clearly demonstrates that the smallest human act of kindness goes a long way. For over 35 years, Gayla Gardner has exercised the mantra of sharing one’s blessings based on the belief that everyone is blessed in some way and everyone has something to share with others. This belief is the foundation of the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc., 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, co-founded with her oldest daughter, Donya, in 1999. The organization was born from a discussion about the deep meaning of the Holiday Season and how they always looked forward to family gatherings, good food and the spirit of Christmas. Yet they were aware that many people face Christmas as being just another day of struggle. And the question arose as to how they could make a difference in someone’s holiday. The answer was to take action and along with friends, making a total of twelve people, the first “parties with a purpose” was organized. Each person held a holiday party in their home based on the themes from the “12 Days of Christmas song.” Invited guest were requested to bring a donation: toys, food, clothing, toiletries, books, and ornaments. A local grocery store provided Christmas trees. At the end of the 12 parties, items were sorted and organized and delivered to 6 selected families. There was so much joy at delivery time that it was a renewal of spirit that makes you want to do more. From this humble beginning, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. has expanded to include chapters in Oakland, CA, Washington, DC, Dallas, TX, New York, NY and Atlanta, GA. The organization has evolved in many ways:  providing service at Easter with dinners and baskets; mobilizing “Christmas in July” to gather recipients for a day of food, fun, games and rides and providing each with back to school clothes and backpacks filled with grade appropriate school supplies; mentoring and tutoring at our adopted school, Lucille Gregg, and providing a monetary sponsorship to assist with school supplies and field trip transportation; and hosting disasters fund raisers in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina survivors, in 2008 Hurricane Ike, 2010 Haitian earthquake and 2012  for medical assistance. Also, in 2012, Gayla spearheaded a children’s fashion show that highlights children’s accomplishments, to showcase their talent and to acknowledge a model honoree that struggles with special circumstances. Growth has also culminated in the formation of a national board of directors. Gayla is most proud of the hundreds of volunteers whose efforts are committed to service and sharing their blessings. Personal: Gayla is a native of small town Rocky Mount, Virginia. She received a Bachelor of Science in Clothing and Textiles and a Masters of Science in Human Ecology from Howard University. She is married for 47 years to Donald, an Oral Surgeon, and they have three wonderful children: Donya an attorney, Breht a filmmaker, and Kendahl a writer/producer; 2 beautiful granddaughters: Cortlandt 10 and Brooke 4. Houston became home in 1976 and thus began community involvement. Community Involvement: For the early childhood years of her children, Gayla was involved with school and extracurricular activities. She organized and chaired the first fundraiser, “The Color of Culture”, at the Imani School for Young Children and for many years served on their board. From 1999 to present she has been committed to the growth and effort of the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. During these years, she has organized and chaired with the efforts of many volunteers yearly fundraising activities that have placed over 5,000 toys under Christmas Trees, provided over 1000 Easter Baskets, delivered over 900 backpacks filled with school supplies, assisted with sorting, organizing and delivering to 100s of families. Affiliations: Missouri City Chapter of Links, Houston Chapter of Girl Friends, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Jack and Jill Associates, the Coterie, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. and Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. Awards and Honors: 1991 Alpha Kappa Alpha “Top Houston Foremost Fashionable Honoree”, 2003 Missouri City Chapter of Links “Our Choice Honoree”, 2004 Onyx Magazine “Distinctive Style Honoree”, 2006 Sickle Cell Association “Community Impact Award”, 2012 Sparkles of Life “Advocate of the Year Award”, and 2012 Steed Society “Top 25 Women of Houston award”, 2015 ABC-13’s “Woman of Distinction” and “Audrey H. Lawson Impact Award”. Community Support: Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, The Ensemble Theatre, Children’s Assessment Center, March of Dimes, Sparkles of Life, Sickle Cell Association, Bering Omega, United Negro college Fund, National Kidney Foundation and DREAM Academy.
Donya Gardner

12DOC_Founders-Donya_BioImage_1Since childhood, Donya has volunteered and been actively involved in her church, schools and community in an effort to give back and initiate social change for the benefit of others.  I firmly believe that God blesses us to be a blessing and sharing our time, talent and resources is the most rewarding way to express gratitude and magnify our God given gifts.

Co-founding Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc., with my mother in 1999, was the perfect answer to the question:  How can we make a difference?   At the turn of the century, the mother-daughter duo wanted to start an annual tradition of helping those in need during the holidays.  This conversation led to their first Parties with a Purpose. In 2016, nearly 17 years later, their ongoing mission continues to empower less fortunate families throughout the year in numerous chapters across the country.  I can only marvel at how this idea has flourished and developed into a national charitable organization.  It has touched so many lives and is truly God’s hand at work. 

In the early years, Donya served as President of the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc., and worked to establish it as a nonprofit 501(c)3 charity.  She worked alongside fellow hostesses to organize fundraisers, raise awareness and garner community support.  Most importantly, she shopped, sorted and delivered to families — making the difference and furthering the mission on which the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc., was founded.

Born in Washington, DC, and raised in Houston, Donya is an attorney, certified negotiator and Credentialed Distinguished Mediator.  She has her own mediation practice and facilitates alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services for cases involving family law, wills and trust, landlord/tenant, employment/labor, personal injury, real estate, business contracts, environmental and small claim grievances.  She received her Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a minor in Spanish from Howard University.   After college, she moved to Malibu, California, and attended Pepperdine University School of Law where she received her Juris Doctor degree and initial certification in Mediation and ADR.

Still passionately involved in the community, Donya volunteers her time as a Board member of The Worklife Institute; Missouri City Chapter of The Links, Inc., where she currently chairs the Services To Youth Facet and is on The Arts Committee; The Houston Chapter of Girl Friends, Inc., where she currently serves as Corresponding Secretary; The Junior League of Houston, Inc., in which she has participated in placements at Ronald McDonald House, Texas Children’s Hospital, the Teen Clinic at Ben Taub Hospital and The DePelchin Children’s Center; Houston Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., and The Coterie.  Her professional affiliations include The Harris County Dispute Resolution Center, the Family Law and ADR sections of both the Houston Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas, Texas Association of Mediators, The Downtown Group and Houston Association of Realtors.

She is the proud mother of two daughters, Cortlandt, age 10, and Brooke, age 5.  When she has a leisure moment, Donya enjoys reading, traveling, exercising and attending musical theater.   Her goal is to continue the outstanding work of Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc., and hopes that her children will follow the family’s example of “giving back “ and community service.

Noteworthy Facts
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. is a distinguished national service organization with more than 200 members in six chapters located in three states and the District of Columbia.
  • The key initiative of The Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. is to organize “parties with a purpose” to raise donations to bless less fortunate families.
  • Working closely with partners, sponsors and supporters, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Incorporated is focused on impacting lives of the less fortunate in their communities.
  • Twelve Days members are actively engaged throughout the country in providing time and effort to impact the lives of deserving individuals.
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc., has raised more than $500,000 in charitable contributions since its founding in 1999.