WESTPORT, Conn. – Kathy Papaleo's childhood interest in horses has led to a lifelong involvement with bettering the status of Native American children. "I used to own a horse," said Papaleo, a registered sales assistant at David Lerner Associates in Westport. "One day I was reading a horse riding magazine and there was an article about the plight of Native American kids in South Dakota, and my heart just broke," she said. "I knew I had to do something."
She discovered the St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain, S.D., and began making small donations. And she's still doing so almost 25 years later. "I'm a quiet person. I don't do it for any publicity," she said. "But maybe someone will read this and get involved and support the school, and that would be great."
Besides regular financial contributions, Papaleo participates in the Boxtops for Education program to provide materials for the school, which has been in existence since 1927.
The school provides boarding and education to more than 200 Lakota [Sioux] children at no cost. "Many of them have bad home-life situations – broken families, alcoholism, drugs," said Papaleo. "The school provides a safe learning environment and builds their self-esteem. The goal is to help them continue their education in college and get a better life."
The school is unique in that students live with houseparents in actual homes on the campus. Native American culture is as important a part of the curriculum as typical school subjects studied by students everywhere.
"I feel it's so important to help these children," said Papaleo. "It's terrible the way we've treated the Native Americans throughout history. This is a small way to try to give back and correct some of those injustices."