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History

For more than six decades, thanks to you, people with disabilities are living their best lives!

Thanks to trailblazing parents more than six decades ago, today Black Hills Works is an industry leader in the provision of services to adults with disabilities.

It all started with Jim and Alice Kibben, and Mrs. S.M. Crawford, who organized other western South Dakota families of children with disabilities. Unwilling to institutionalize their children with disabilities, they instead advocated for education, research, community opportunities, and favorable legislation for children and adults with disabilities.  

In 1958, they adopted the National ARC’s preschool curriculum and hired Alma Kuster to teach ten children with disabilities, with the first classroom in the basement of the Kibben home. This modest classroom was the start of Black Hills Works (then called the Black Hills Workshop).

From these humble beginnings, Black Hills Works continued to expand throughout the 1960s, adding vocational and day programming. Participants were engaged in contract employment, childcare, meal preparation, woodworking and more. In 1967, residential supports were also offered for the first time to five young men who moved into the private home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Claseman.

In the 1973, against the national backdrop of widespread calls for deinstitutionalization, Black Hills Works opened its first community-based group home, called a “Step Beyond,” to support people who had previously been institutionalized at the South Dakota Developmental Center in Redfield. Additional Black Hills Works residential options were opened throughout the 1970s, and vocational opportunities expanded, to include a first-in-the-nation contract for employees with disabilities to provide custodial services in a federal building.

Many more people returned to their home communities, including Rapid City, from the South Dakota Developmental Center throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with state officials working with community providers, including Black Hills Works, to ensure appropriate supports. Vocational opportunities also expanded significantly, to include another first-in-the-nation custodial contact with the United States Air Force at Ellsworth.

Today, Black Hills Works continues to lead the nation, offering high quality services and supports to adults with disabilities. Accredited by the Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL), in 2023 Black Hills Works received the highest score ever issued by CQL. Our commitment to ensuring that our participants have the support they need to access their community in the same way as citizens of all abilities is unwavering. This priority permeates all aspects of living, to include accessible homes, productive employment, healthcare coordination, transportation, and fun in the community.

As we reflect on the past six decades, we can see that people with disabilities have always been our guide. As a nation, we have emerged from the dark shadows of our early history when institutionalization was the norm to a place where we now know what is possible when we believe in the potential of people, and shed misconceptions about limitations.

Thanks to your support, Black Hills Works continues to be a trailblazer in this regard. Because of you, nearly 600 people with disabilities are living their best lives. They are thriving!