Ryken Honored With United Way Volunteerism Award

Lisa Ryken, was honored with the Pam Kettering Spirit of Volunteerism Award for her work on Yankton’s Toys for Kids program.

By Cora Van Olson

A Yankton woman being recognized for excellence as a volunteer for the United Way of Greater Yankton hopes to pass down her inspiration to volunteer to her child.

Lisa Ryken was named the winner of the 2021 Pam Kettering Spirit of Volunteerism Award by the United Way for her work on the Christmas “Toys for Kids” program. The winner of the Kettering award is chosen from the 12 United Way Volunteer of the Month honorees in a given year. Ryken was Volunteer of the Month in December 2020.

Kettering was the executive director of United Way in Yankton from 1990-2021 and introduced the Volunteer of the Month award and the Volunteer of the Year award, which, in 2016, was renamed in her honor.

“Lisa has been a blessing to 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 the Press and Dakotan. “We wanted to highlight Lisa’s efforts. It was her first year last year organizing the program on her own, and she just did an amazing job. We served nearly 500 youth last year, and it wasn’t an easy year to take it on for the first time.”

The Toys for Kids program has been a volunteer project in Yankton for about 20 years giving Christmas gifts to children in need.

“United Way does the admin side,” Hanson said. “We work with agencies to obtain referrals; we make the database and we contact the families.”

The list of children who need presents goes to Ryken, she said.

“Yankton Toys for Kids would not be possible without the efforts of Lisa and her helpers to ensure that every referred child receives a gift,” Hanson said.

Since the program began, the head volunteer for Yankton’s Toys for Kids was also Ryken’s grandmother, Pat Robinson.

“My grandmother actually did Toys for Kids since it began, and I helped her for pretty much all of the years leading up to my taking it over from her,” Ryken said. “I have a 6-year-old who watches, so it’s important to me to give back and to teach my son the power of people and giving back.”

Though Ryken did not put in as many hours on the project when her grandmother ran it, her involvement has left her 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 she started crying. Later that day, people flooded in with both gifts and monetary donations. You don’t realize how many people in the community give until you are in a role like this.”

Ryken said her son realizes what her volunteer work is about and helps out.

“I see him becoming more involved as he gets older,” she said. “I think it’s important that he sees that not every child has everything that he does.”

He has also become the defender of Ryken’s year-round stockpile of toys in her garage.

“When the garage door goes up, the neighbor kids see what’s in my garage,” she said. “He is quick to say, ‘Those aren’t mine. They’re Toys for Kids’, and you can’t have them.’”

Ryken said she plans on doing Toys for Kids for as long as she can and envisions her son becoming more involved as he grows up.

Also, Toys for Kids is like an extension of her job at the Human Services Center (HSC), where she has worked for 15 years as an acute chemical dependency counselor, she said.

“I can see results quicker than in what I do as a profession,” she said. “That’s what keeps feeding my desire to do it.”


For more information on Toys for Kids or to donate, call Yankton’s United Way at 605-665-6766 or email infor@yanktonunitedway.org

(1) comment


I think Pam Kettering was executive director until 2012, not 2021. Lauren Hansen has been ED for a while.

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