The Asian Pacific Development Center was founded in October 1980. Large numbers of Asian refugees had emigrated to Colorado following the Vietnam War, and a significant number were showing signs of posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. The center was formed by leaders of the city's Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, including "social workers, attorneys, psychologists and psychiatrists living in Denver", and services were provided by these professionals.
In the 21st century, the center's clientele expanded as additional groups of refugees landed in Colorado, including immigrants from Korea (estimated at 25,000 in the Denver area in 2000) and Bhutan (estimated at 3,500 in 2008).
The center initially offered mental health therapy and counseling on an outpatient basis. After Sumiko Hennessy, a Japanese-born professor of social work, became executive director in 1984, the center's services were expanded to help "overcome the Asian discomfort with mental health assistance". Classes in English as a second language, employment counseling, and youth activities were introduced at this time.