Gabrielle Funaro Strong ’86

2001 Catharine Lealtad
Service to Society Award

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In 1983, Gabrielle Strong was a young parent and recent graduate of The Red School House, St. Paul’s alternative high school for American Indian students. A Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota, she was part of the group that obtained the initial $80,000 grant to start Ain Dah Yung, “Our Home,” an emergency shelter for American Indian youth. She graduated from Macalester with a sociology major and joined Ain Dah Yung as a counselor. In 1991, in recognition of her work with Indian children and families, Strong was named a Macalester Distinguished Citizen. With the aid of a Bush Leadership Fellowship, she earned her master’s in social work in 1994 from the University of Minnesota.

In the last decade, Strong has served as the executive director of Ain Dah Yung, leading the organization through phenomenal growth. The center now has a budget of $1.4 million, operates three sites and provides not only emergency shelter for American Indian youth but transitional housing, family support services, outreach and legal advocacy. “I went through my own personal struggles and it took a while for things to click for me,” Strong says, “but I never doubted that I would be of some service.”

Now she helps that “click” happen for others by serving on the St. Paul Public Schools’ Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee and on the state’s Indian Child Welfare Council. Her long list of honors includes the Special Recognition Award from BIHA (Black, Indian, Hispanic and Asian) Women in Action and the Konopka Award for outstanding residential care for youth from the Minnesota Citizens Council on Crime and Justice. She is soon to be portrayed in Katherine Martin’s book Women of Courage, Vol. 2. This past March, Strong began a 10-month sabbatical devoted to study of the Dakota language, supported by a leadership initiative grant from the St. Paul Companies.