Since the board members of Enid’s 4RKids began their non-profit organization four years ago, they’ve wanted to open a vocational center to train developmentally disabled people to develop products and have jobs.

They are closer to that reality today with the purchase of the former Putt-Putt Miniature Golf Course, 700 Overland Trail. The bu-siness gives them the space they need to operate the miniature golf course and to begin a new vocational facility.

Bret and Barbara Whinery are two of the founding members of 4RKids, and now Bret is the manager of the miniature golf course and planned vocational facility.

A stay-at-home dad for his son Jake, who is developmentally disabled, Whinery is excited about the possibilities for jobs and meaningful employment for Garfield County’s developmentally disabled population.

“We began ways to look at developing a vocational center — we needed about 5,000 square feet,” Whinery said. “We also needed a place that could be climate control-led.”

The Putt-Putt location fits that bill, with one end of the building dedicated to the miniature golf operation, and about two-thirds of the building being transformed into a vocational center.

4RKids is the owner of the property and is a non-profit organization. They are seeking the franchise permit to continue the Putt-Putt franchise and already have begun operating and staffing the miniature golf course with developmentally disabled employees. Employees and managers are preparing for a grand opening celebration on July 7.

“It’s a win-win for us and the community,” he said. He said providing jobs for developmentally disabled people gives them a purpose as well as providing em-ployment for a population that traditionally is 75- to 85-percent unemployed.

“They can do the job. If you break the job down, they can do it,” Whinery said. For example, the golf course does not have an automatic sprinkler system, so it requires someone to physically water the course. Employees also can do the mowing and operate the cash register.

Whinery said his son, Jake, “just about has (the cash register) figured out.”

Lynn Dunn, another 4RKids board member, agrees these folks want meaningful employment. Her adult son is developmentally disabled and lives in a community in Okla-homa City that provides workshop training for their clients.

“Our kids want to work,” she said. “It’s very important for (her son) to have a job. He’s proud to make his own money and have his independence.”

“They have the same wants and needs as anyone,” Whinery said. “Jake talks about wanting to live in an apartment, and wanting to live on his own.”

While the miniature golf operation can employee a few developmentally disabled workers, it’s the vocational center the 4RKids organizers see as the biggest opportunity for new jobs. The group is looking for a product the employees can produce and sell right out of the vocational center.

One of the opportunities they are looking at is designing and producing flagstones for patios, gardens or landscaping. Whinery said it will be a few more months before the vocational center is operational.

“We will be continually evolving,” he said.

Both Whinery and Dunn credit the support of the Enid community for making the vocational center and miniature golf operation a successful reality. The group has only been around four years and its main fundraiser has been the Walk 4RKids. The first year they raised a little over $20,000. This past year, they raised more than $75,000, due to volunteers and businesses supporting them.

All the money raised at the walks and all the money raised through the miniature golf operation and the vocational center will go right back to the employees they are serving, Whinery said.

They believe the community support will continue because their support for developmentally disabled people also reaches out to their families, friends and the rest of the community.

The group could use volunteers to help work with employees at the miniature golf course, Whinery said. The more people who are involved in working with the developmentally disabled, the more understanding and awareness that takes place and provides encouragement.

“This benefits everyone,” Dunn said.

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