Of Eggrolls Eaten and Bridges Built: Volunteer Pat Reichert

Pat Reichert

Because Pat Reichert has volunteered regularly at LSS Refugee & Immigration Center since 1989, her accomplishments are so numerous and significant that they begin sounding like a resume, and an impressive one at that.

Her work on the annual Taste of Cultures event since 1999 has helped grow it to about 500 attendees and has netted over $70,000.

The annual Christmas giveaway she started and organizes each year has totaled over $38,000 worth of donations bringing joy to hundreds of refugee families.

She has received many major awards for her service, including the South Dakota Governor’s Award for Volunteer of the Year in 1994, the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service in 1999, and the Spirit of Volunteerism Award in 2004.

She once headed a Lutheran Women’s convention with 5,000 attendees that brought in so many donations of bedding to the Refugee & Immigration Center that we didn’t need additional donations for the next two years.

You get the idea: the growth of our agency’s impact is owed in large part to this woman’s dedicated service.

But the human connections–the simple stories of stereotypes overcome–rise to the top as the most impressive part of Pat’s service to our office and the community. She is a bridge builder, a bringer-together of people.

Pat and her family have mentored 10 refugee families over the years, crossing linguistic and cultural barriers to welcome and guide newly-arrived people from countries like Sudan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Azerbaijan. The mother in one of the first families she worked with still calls her randomly and says, “They’re ready!” referring to the egg rolls she’s cooked to share.

In the community, Pat once encouraged a second grade class in Tea to sponsor Christmas gifts for a refugee family. She then took the refugee family to meet and thank the students. The class enjoyed it so much that Pat continued to arrange the experience for years to come.

And there’s the time that Pat was shopping with one of her mentee families, and she smiled—in a grocery store in South Dakota, a tall, dark Sudanese man carried her small, pale grandchild around the store. She thought it was a beautiful sight.

But perhaps Pat’s 24 years of service can best be measured this way: her children and grandchildren have now caught the vision. In the same way that Pat advocates for ‘outsiders,’ her progeny now speak up when they see someone being misunderstood.

And if that’s not valuable work, then I don’t know what is.


To volunteer at the Refugee and Immigration Center, please call 605-731-2000.

To donate to the work of welcoming the stranger, click here.

[Post by Amy S.Z.]

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