The L.I.S.T.E.N. Center began modestly in the churches of Grand Forks in the fall of 1970. Wesley United Methodist Church provided recreation activities for adults with disabilities every Sunday afternoon. Field experience students were supervised by Gordon Henry to plan and assist with these activities. In 1971, when the church would no longer be available because of urban renewal, Mrs. Janet Miller (the pastor’s wife) asked Church Woman United if one of the downtown churches would take over the activities (Church Woman United provided birthday cakes to the Drop-In Center every month for 23 years until their group disbanded in the year 2000).
St. Mary’s Catholic Church agreed and took over the program in May of 1972. Many groups and individuals offered help with the Sunday afternoon activities as the program began to grow. The program was eventually name S.M.I.L.E. – St. Mary’s Is Love Exceptional – by Rita Ahles.
Activities were simultaneously held at the YMCA by Youth Arc. This program was later relocated to United Lutheran Church on Monday nights. Tom and Ginny Akers came up with the idea of merging the two programs. In the summer of 1974 these two programs merged to form L.I.S.T.E.N. – Love Is Sharing The Exceptional Needs. Larry Albert is credited with coming up with the name L.I.S.T.E.N. at a meeting held at Sambo’s Restaurant (Grandma Butterwicks). A building was secured at 301 North 6th Street. This structure was built in 1900 and had been used by the Body of Christ Community Church. Tom Akers was the first president of the board of directors. Mr. Akers received a $4,000 grant from Developmental Disabilities Services of the State Department of Health for operating a recreation center 7 days a week. The new board approached the Grand Forks City Council and asked for help in finding a location for the fledgling organization. The first director was hired on September 18, 1974.
Soon, this building became too small, and in November 1975 L.I.S.T.E.N. moved to 1201 5th Avenue North. This building was owned by the city and renovated with Community Development Block Grant Funds. Originally located across from Central High School in 1897, it was moved to its current location in the 1920′s.
Dick Christensen was hired as acting director in 1977 with Charles Bremseth hired as the executive director in April 1978. In 1979, the L.I.S.T.E.N. logo was approved and the L.I.S.T.E.N. Choir, L.I.S.T.E.N.‘s greatest ambassador at the time, was under the direction of Evelyn Cole. It was also the year of the 1979 flood and the sewer backed up causing flooding of the basement. In 1980, a catastrophic fire nearly destroyed the building one week after our open house. The fire was caused by a cigarette in the living room couch. The crisis became an opportunity and with the help of 110 volunteers L.I.S.T.E.N. was rebuilt. We received our first allocation from the United Way. L.I.S.T.E.N. Gaming began operations in 1981 at the HUB Bar. The center continued to grow beyond expectations when the 1982 ARC lawsuit forced the downsizing of the Grafton State School. It is estimated over 150 individuals came to live in Grand Forks, many of whom began to use L.I.S.T.E.N.‘s recreational services. A larger building was sought to house the new L.I.S.T.E.N. Senior Services program. The program began operation in August of 1984 at 1201 5th Avenue North when Development Homes approached us to develop a day program for elderly ‘mentally handicapped adults’ (time terminology) coming from Grafton State School.
In September of 1984, the programs moved once more to a new location at 624 North Washington Street. The building was once the home of Emmanuel Lutheran Church School in the 1950′s before it became the home of the first special education classes in the Grand Forks School District. The building was the storage facility for the school district, and at one time housed Eagle Feather Day Care. Interestingly, many of those who went to special education classes in this building returned as adults to participate in L.I.S.T.E.N.‘s community recreation programs. The two adjacent half lots to the east were given by the City to L.I.S.T.E.N. in 1985 for payment of special assesments. The house adjacent to the property was purchased in 1990 to accommodate the need for office space. In 1992, the Center opened its facility and programs to the general public in order to foster integration and inclusion to those we were serving.
The flood of 1997 forced the closure of the Center for four months, but after two weeks the Day Services program began operations out of the elementary school in Portland, ND. Many people living in group home residential facilities were temporarily moved to Mayville, ND and other scattered locations while Grand Forks facilities were being rehabilitated. L.I.S.T.E.N. programs eventually split into a senior services program and a day activity program for youth and moved to separate locations – South Forks Plaza (Grand Cities Mall) in Grand Forks, and a strip mall on 32nd Avenue South. Both programs came together again under one roof at the Hemmp Center located at 1407 24th Avenue South and began operations June 6th, 2000 as L.I.S.T.E.N. Day Services.
- 1981 – The L.I.S.T.E.N. Community Recreation Program paired with programs in the community to offer mainstream recreational classes to people with disabilities. Coordinators: Eve Poole and Deb Gerhke.
- 1992 – Opening the Drop-In Center for community use and providing a dramatic increase in programs for children. Community league participation by L.I.S.T.E.N. in softball, bowling and basketball. Program Director: Patti Mahar.
- 1998 – For the first time the board of directors comprised entirely of past L.I.S.T.E.N. board presidents.
- 2002 – Self Advocacy Solutions – a new program under the direction of Carla Tice, Program Director, and funded by the DD Council. The DD Council promoted individual rights training and independence for people with intellectual disabilities throughout the State of North Dakota.
- 2007 – Nancy McKay becomes the Day Services Director, succeeding Kay Washburn.
- 2018 – Charlie Bremseth retired after 40 years with Christina Potts hired as the new Executive Director.
- 2019 – L.I.S.T.E.N. got approved to provide residential and family support services along with adding prevocational to the day services program. On November 11, 2019 LISTEN started working with the first person to receive residential support from the agency.
Today we continue to focus our programs, activities and assistance to people who have intellectual disabilities and to operate in both locations as well as several gaming sites throughout the City of Grand Forks, in Mayville and Lakota.