FARGO — It wasn't that long ago in North Dakota that hundreds of people with intellectual disabilities were housed in huge institutions.

The Grafton State School and San Haven Sanatorium together had populations of more than a thousand. At their peak, the institutions housed people with everything from learning disabilities to seizure disorders. The state called these people "feeble-minded."

"(It) was in the neighborhood of anywhere from 1,200 to 1,700 people; no one knows for sure," said Tom Newberger, CEO of the Red River Human Services Foundation, which provides housing and lines up employment for people with disabilities.

The days of large institutions are gone and today people with challenges are in our community working jobs and living life. Next week, the foundation will mark 40 years of providing services to North Dakotans who are no longer warehoused in asylums but contributing members of the community.

The Red River Human Services Foundation assists 400 people in the eastern part of North Dakota alone. Starting with a staff of just one person in 1979, it has now grown to about 300 staff members who work to make sure the most vulnerable members of society are not forgotten.

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Mike Robasse, a direct support professional for the foundation who assists people in the program, said it's a rewarding job.

"I love working with the individuals and letting them have a life like we have," he said. "Certain days we go and we volunteer. We go to the Salvation Army and we help clean up after lunch or we go to YWCA and help fill food boxes so that we give back a little bit. And other days we do things like go fishing."

The foundation is holding its 40-year celebration Wednesday, Sept. 18, at the Hilton Garden Inn, 4351 17th Ave. S., in Fargo.