You could say Lisa Karsten’s career began in elementary school.
After transferring to a new grade school, Lisa was on the receiving end of bullying from other kids in school. It made recess a miserable experience. At the suggestion of the school nurse, instead of going out on the playground during free time, Lisa began to read to kids in school who had Down syndrome. She loved it; lemons turned into lemonade.
This early experience inspired Lisa to work with individuals with special needs on a more formal basis. At age 16, she began working at the Faribault Regional Center. Lisa says that the Faribault center and other large institutions like that have gotten a bad rap over the years and weren’t all necessarily bad places. “For individuals living there, that was their community. There were many activities and we would help them be out in the community.” Lisa adds, “I really, really liked working there.” Throughout high school, Lisa worked shifts before and after school.
Her work continued at the Faribault Regional Center for many years after high school. Then, in 1989, Lisa was encouraged to come and work at Laura Baker Services Association by a friend who worked here. Although she had to take a pay cut to come, Lisa liked the small size of the organization, the work environment and the fact there wasn’t as much red tape. “If I wanted to take a client out for ice cream it was no big deal.” Today, Lisa is a Household Director in LBSA’s Community Services program, a role she has held since 1992.
After 30 years at LBSA, Lisa still enjoys the work. When asked to describe a favorite memory, she shares the story of a client’s reaction to coloring Easter eggs. Lisa laughs as she recalls how exciting it was for one of her clients to see a white egg come out a different color. “Glen was so ecstatic about that one thing. It was fun to see.” According to Lisa, Glen’s reaction is an example of one of the best parts of working at LBSA. “The amount of joy they can find in life and how much joy they find in you.” Little things matter.
Lisa is a past recipient of the Spirit of Laura Baker award which is given annually to one individual who best embodies the vision and values of LBSA. Executive Director, Sandi Gerdes, says the award exemplifies Lisa’s value to the organization. “She rarely says no to a request for help. In recent times, she has stepped in when we lost household directors for various reasons.” In addition to her required duties, Lisa has volunteered to serve on various planning committees throughout the years and looks to help out however she can.
In her “spare” time, Lisa works overnights three nights a week at a group home in Faribault, serves on the Morristown City Council, volunteers at her church, is active in the Morristown Historical Society and is a weekly vendor at her local farmers market selling a variety of baked treats. She serves as Scoutmaster for the local troop where her son participates and is a key leader in the 4-H club in her community. Lisa has been married to her husband, Rick, for 19 years, has found time to raise three children and now has four grandchildren. She is even a former Mrs. Rice County and Faribault Daily News “unsung hero” award recipient.
Lisa’s dedication and passion to her work are matched by her dedication to her family and her community. “I’m not sure when she sleeps.” Sandi adds.