(Partially reprinted from The Salem News 9/22/22)
Alex lives with his parents, Kevin and Jennifer, in Peabody. Always a happy child, he was diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was very young. As he moved toward his teens Alex developed aggressive behavior toward his family and others. By the time he reached the age of 14, his parents were at a loss.
“We didn’t know where to turn to try and tone down Alex’s behavior issues,” Kevin recalled. “It’s a horrible feeling when you’re scared of your own child whom you love dearly. His behavior was weighing on us terribly.” Then Kevin, an operations manager in the marketing department for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, had a eureka moment.
He thought of Kernwood Golf Club in Salem.
Kevin has been associated with Kernwood for 41 years as a caddy, bag room attendant, valet parker and part-time grounds worker. Over the past 25 years, he worked weekends for the course superintendent, John Eggelston, performing course set-up such as tee marker placement and changing the flagstick locations. Through his experience, Kevin thought being around the golf course could help Alex.
“I wondered if taking Alex around Kernwood with me in a golf cart might help. So I asked John Eggelston, if I could drive Alex on a golf cart around the course at 6 a.m. in hopes that it might help his agitation. I didn’t know how this would affect Alex because of his unpredictable behavior. Most important, John allowed me to do it with Alex, wished us the best, and looked forward to hearing how it went.”
After a few dry runs, as Kevin related, “riding in the golf cart with his dad on this beautiful property called Kernwood did, in fact, have a calming effect on Alex. He loved everything about it. We called it ‘golf cart therapy.” This routine lasted for a couple years to the point where Kevin and Jennifer felt their son had stabilized emotionally.
“I then asked John if I could just work in the evenings moving the tee markers and bring Alex along with me,” Kevin added. “John gave the OK, so I would move the tee markers and Alex would empty the trash on Friday and Saturday nights. We’ve been doing this for seven years now. The last three years Alex has been learning life skills by taking over the duties himself, with me acting as his job coach.”
“Bottom line is that Alex has stabilized and we enjoy working at Kernwood, the two of us, like a team. The last couple years Alex has started asking me in April when we start our job at Kernwood and it all started with his golf cart therapy.”
“It gave all of us at Kernwood a good feeling to learn about that from Kevin,” said John Eggelston
“Everyone at Kernwood we’ve run into the last few years has expressed their support for Alex,” said Kevin. “Jennifer and I can’t thank everyone enough. Members go out of their way to ask about Alex and engage with him whenever we see them on the course.”