Welcoming people of all abilities
By Deborah Burke Henderson, Contributing Writer
Holliston – The story of Putts & More Family Fun Center, a beautifully designed 18-hole mini-golf course on the Holliston/Ashland town line, begins with a special couple.
For both Jim and Marion Giammarinaro, this was a second marriage and although Marion had children, they wanted a family together. Choosing adoption, they found infants were in high demand in the States, so they turned to an adoption agency with overseas connections. They finally identified their son-to-be, Nick, a two-year-old in a Russian orphanage in Kurgan.
Although Nick was born prematurely, he could now easily run laps around the other children in care. Beyond the trauma and stress surrounding his birth, Nick has some learning disabilities and severe anxiety.
“At first, because of his attachment disorder – a lack of trust caused by an environment without love and connectedness – Nick would rock himself when he needed comfort, soothing or sleep,” Marion stated, “but over the years, he grew to know how much we love him. His disabling anxiety, although somewhat lessened, still keeps him moving around a lot though.”
As Nick grew older, the Giammarinaros needed more flexibility from their jobs. They wanted to create an environment that would feel safe and welcoming and provide Nick and others with opportunities for self-discovery, growth and meaningful employment.
Marion retired from her career in nursing and Jim, once in finance and then co-owner of a small printing business in Ashland, sold his company and, together in 2014, purchased a nearby mini-golf course which had lain dormant for several years.
“All these guys and gals [with disabilities] can do something. It is just a matter of realizing what skills they have and providing appropriate employment opportunities,” Jim said, adding, “at Putts and More, we welcome people of all abilities. It’s a fun place to work, and with the help of our volunteer job coaches, we can also offer work in landscaping, maintenance, stocking the snack bar and engaging with customers.”
Jim calls Putts & More a for-profit business with a nonprofit feel.
With the Massachusetts Department of Development Services reporting an 80 percent unemployment rate for people with special needs, the Giammarinaros are committed to serving a purpose by keeping people employed and active. Putts & More offers delightful recreation for people of all ages and abilities and part-time employment for people with disabilities.
“You want your child to be with people who want to be with them. It’s tricky,” Jim added. “People with disabilities can be fragile. We’re like all of the families we’ve experienced through Nick’s involvement with Special Olympics, we want to find or create places where these kids are welcome.”
While Jim serves as the full-time president of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, Marion manages day-to-day operations for Putts & More at 750 Concord St., Rte. 126, Holliston. Now 26, Nick handles much of the landscaping services at the course and on Thursdays, works part-time at a gas station in Berlin where he is beloved by many, including Chief of Police Tom Galvin.
Besides the 18-hole course, Putts & More offers a 30- by 80-foot jumping pillow; lawn sports such as volleyball, badminton and bean bag toss; picnic tables; lounge areas and a popular snack bar with hot dogs, slush puppies, sodas, chips and ice cream. Jim and Marion are currently preparing for the inclusion of a 40- by 40-foot splash pad, pending permission from the town of Holliston’s zoning board. Charities and companies use Putts & More as a fundraising endeavor with hole sponsors and raffles.
Following current health and safety protocols, customers are expected to wear face masks at the counter and maintain a physical distance of six feet from one another throughout the grounds.
“There’s something for everyone at Putts & More depending on their capability,” Jim added.
During the initial quarantine timeframe while businesses were closed, Marion realized just how much her workers normally did around the course.
“We’re delighted to be open again,” Marion said. “I’ve missed the people, parents and other job coaches and the contributions everyone made. Our employees are so enthusiastic about being at work again, and they do so much around here. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing to watch.”
Recognizing that individuals born on the autism spectrum have increased four-fold over the past many years, Jim and Marion hope there will be many others committed to hiring people with disabilities and to creating appropriate, inclusive workplaces for all.
The Putts & More Family Fun Center is open Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Creating family or company leagues and playing tournaments is encouraged. To find out more about playing golf or celebrating a special occasion at the course, visit puttsandmore.com or call the golf shack at 508-561-2902.