A Yankton woman recognized for her excellence as a volunteer for United Way of Greater Yankton hopes to pass on her inspiration to volunteer to her child.
Lisa Ryken was named the 2021 Pam Kettering Spirit of Volunteerism Award winner by United Way for her work on the “Toys for Kids” Christmas program. The winner of the Kettering Prize is chosen from among 12 United Way Volunteers of the Month honored in a given year. Ryken was named Volunteer of the Month in December 2020.
Kettering was the Executive Director of United Way in Yankton from 1990 to 2021 and presented the Volunteer of the Month award and the Volunteer of the Year award, which in 2016 were renamed in his honor.
“Lisa has been a blessing for the strong tradition and continuation of the Yankton Toys for Kids program,” Lauren Hanson, executive director of United Way & Volunteer Services of Greater Yankton, told Press and Dakotan. “We wanted to recognize Lisa’s efforts. It was her first year last year organizing the program on her own, and she did an amazing job. We served almost 500 young people last year, and it was not an easy year dealing with them for the first time.
The Toys for Kids program has been a volunteer project in Yankton for approximately 20 years providing Christmas gifts to children in need.
“United Way takes care of the administration,” said Hanson. “We work with agencies to get referrals; we create the database and we contact the families.
The list of kids who need gifts goes to Ryken, she said.
“Yankton Toys for Kids would not be possible without the efforts of Lisa and her assistants to ensure that every referred child receives a gift,” said Hanson.
From the start of the program, Yankton’s Toys for Kids’ main volunteer was also Ryken’s grandmother, Pat Robinson.
“My grandmother has been making Toys for Kids from the start, and I helped her pretty much all of the years leading up to her takeover,” said Ryken. “I have a 6 year old who is watching, so it is important for me to give back and teach my son the power of people and to give back.”
Although Ryken didn’t dedicate so many hours to the project when his grandmother led it, his involvement left him with fond memories.
“I don’t even know what year it was, but we had very minimal donations,” she said. “(My grandmother) ended up on the radio and started crying. Later in the day, people flocked with both gifts and monetary donations. You don’t realize how many people in the community are donating until you’re in a role like this.
Ryken said his son realizes what his volunteer work is and helps him.
“I see him getting more involved as he gets older,” she said. “I think it’s important that he sees that not all kids have everything he does.”
He also became the defender of Ryken’s toy stock in his garage year round.
“When the garage door goes up, the neighbor’s kids see what’s in my garage,” she said. “He doesn’t hesitate to say, ‘These are not mine. These are children’s toys, and you can’t have them.
Ryken said she plans to make toys for children for as long as she can and envisions her son getting more involved as he gets older.
Plus, Toys for Kids is like an extension of her work at the Human Services Center (HSC), where she worked for 15 years as an acute chemical addiction counselor, she said.
“I can see results faster than in what I do as a profession,” she said. “This is what continues to fuel my desire to do this.”
For more information on Toys for Kids or to donate, call Yankton’s United Way at 605-665-6766 or email [email protected]