- Associated Press - Sunday, June 8, 2014

HOLLISTON, Mass. (AP) - A new miniature golf course in town is expected to draw hundreds of locals this summer and the three families in charge have a unique goal for the course: to provide job opportunities for people with special needs.

In a struggling economy, the Giammarinaro family of Ashland wanted to do something to make sure their son Nick, 20, had the skills he needed to get a job.

Nick Giammarinaro studies at Accept Collaborative out of Ashland High School, a program dedicated to people ages 18-22 who need extra schooling.

Giammarinaro’s parents adopted him from an orphanage in Russia when he was two. He suffered from a condition called “failure to thrive,” a term used to describe severely underweight children. Giammarinaro was only 18 pounds when he was adopted. Because of that childhood condition, he struggles with anxiety.

However, his father, Jim, believes people with special needs can be successful in the right environment.

“You have to find what their skill base is,” said Jim Giammarinaro at the course late last month.

His son loves landscaping and buying a mini-golf course seemed like the best way to help him.

Giammarinaro, sales manager at Putts & More, partnered with Ray and Stephanie LeBlanc of Hopkinton and Alan and Rhonda Banks of Walpole. Both families have sons with special needs. Their sons are Shane LeBlanc and Alan Banks Jr. The three families met through an ice-hockey team for people with special needs called the East Coast Jumbos.

Four area nonprofits will assign people to work at the course: Price Center in Newton, which works with disabled children, Accept Educational Collaborative in Natick, which helps people ages 18-22 who need extra schooling; Milford Community Use Program, which offers extra-curricular activities for all ages; and Crossroads School in Natick, which works with autistic children.

Giammarinaro hopes the course will employ veterans, new immigrants and other segments of the population that struggle to get jobs.

“It will be an all-inclusive environment,” he said.

Among the special needs community, people with Down syndrome, autism and learning disabilities will work at the course. There will be one adult supervisor on site at all times, said Giammarinaro.

The 4-acre course has 18 holes including five new ones that were recently installed. People may remember the course at 750 Concord St. as Water Hazard Miniature Golf, which closed in 2012.

When Giammarinaro and his business partners bought the course last year, it was damaged from the harsh winter and covered in thorn bushes. The course has been open under renovation since May 19 but will be fully open for business in early June.

The course is open Sunday to Thursday from noon to 9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from noon to 10:30 p.m. For more information go to puttsandmore.com.

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