Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas is celebrating our 50th year of providing services and support to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) throughout the 18 counties of northwest Kansas. From our humble beginnings in 1967, serving just four people at what was once a barracks on the campus of Fort Hays State University, to an organization serving more than 500 people with I/DD, DSNWK always has been about creating better lives and empowering the people we serve.

Lives of those we serve have drastically changed for the better during these 50 years. No longer are people forced into institutional care ó common in the earlier days. Individuals often are employed by local businesses, living in their own apartments and participating as community members. Itís simple, itís normal, and yet itís profound. When we look back at where we evolved from, these accomplishments never would be possible if not for the efforts of so many caring people across all walks of life who have seen the need, stepped forward and made a difference in the lives of others.

It inspires me thinking about the courage, determination and vision our founders had as they forged a new path in serving people with differing abilities. In those days, the idea of bringing people out of state institutions and serving them in the community was foreign and certainly was met with some resistance along the way. Through their leadership, these pioneers created a strong foundation upon which our current services today are built.

We are indebted to all the parents, staff, board members and community members who ignited and fanned the flames and carried the torch forward decade after decade. Because these advocates envisioned people with developmental disabilities with all the same rights, to live close to home, to have employment opportunities and to be interdependent with their community, those services emerged and continued to grow and flourish for many years.

To all who have been involved and supported DSNWK during these past 50 years ó thank you. We couldnít have reached this milestone without you. Whatever your connection, we appreciate you. All of us at DSNWK look forward to continuing our side-by-side work with you. Together, with a common vision and value that each person is unique and gifted with their own unique set of abilities, our communities become stronger and more beautiful for all of us. May the firm foundation laid by our predecessors remain the bedrock of services into the next 50 years as we together tackle the challenges and build the future that empowers the lives of those we diligently serve and will serve.

Jerry Michaud is president and CEO of DSNWK.