A NWIndiana Life in the Spotlight: Linda Perez-Gallegos

LindaPerezGallagos“Yes, I blame Disney movies!” Linda Perez-Gallegos says half-joking. “As girls, we grow up watching ‘Cinderella’ and we want our own ‘happily ever after’. Then, as we get in our own relationships, we realize it is not often that way.” This is one of the reasons Perez-Gallegos gives for the reason victims stay in abusive relationships.

Linda Perez-Gallegos is the Executive Director at St. Jude House, a family violence prevention center that is marking its 20th anniversary this year. Opening in 1995, the shelter is a temporary home for 30 adults and children who find themselves in abusive situations. It is the realized dream of Crown Point businessman, Don Burrell. In seeking help for his new business venture, Burrell prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. He asked the saint for help and vowed to honor the saint should his business become successful. Burrell kept his promise as the business he started with $700 in an office basement became a nationally recognized color-processing laboratory known as Burell Professional Labs.

“Every experience in life has prepared me for this role,” says Perez-Gallegos. Prior to this position, she worked as the Director of Guest Services at the Family Christian Center in Munster. Perhaps more important than her work experience, though, has been her personal experience. Perez-Gallegos is a survivor of domestic abuse.

As a child, Perez-Gallegos saw domestic violence with her parents. She also admits that, as a teenager, she did not always make the best choices in relationships. Her friends, too, often made bad choices. She recalls spending the evening with a friend and their boyfriends. The next morning, she visited that same friend in the hospital. She had been beaten badly by her boyfriend.

“If you see abuse growing up and then you and those around you experience it in your own relationships, you begin to wonder if this is normal. It is embarrassing because, when I saw it as a child, I vowed I would never let that happen to me,” admits Perez-Gallegos.

A victim will leave their abuser an average of seven times before they finally have the strength to cut their ties for good.

“It’s not just getting hit,” says, Perez-Gallegos. “It’s mental and emotional abuse as well. They break you down to the point where you have little self-confidence or self-respect. In addition, even if you are making a salary, the abusers are often the ones who control the family finances. Those are big reasons why we feel we cannot live without them,” says Perez-Gallegos.

Perez-Gallegos now uses these tragic personal experiences to help others.

“We may not be able to do everything for the survivors in the shelter. But, we can empower them and give them the tools and resources they need to live independent lives. We also show our survivors love and teach them how to be in healthy relationships.” Perez-Gallegos adds, “I call them ‘survivors’ because they have already taken that first initial crucial step.”

Perez-Gallegos has a special fondness for the children at the shelter.

“Children don’t make a choice to be in that situation. It is very important for us to show them what is right and what is acceptable. We show them as much love as we can in the very small window we have to impact their lives. This may be the first time these kids have had stability and structure in their lives,” explains Perez-Gallegos.

Perez-Gallegos offers this advice for people who may find themselves in abusive situations. “You don’t need a man’s approval or another woman’s approval. God approves of you and thinks you are beautiful.”

Perez-Gallegos points out that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will be in an abusive relationship.

“Look at your circle of family and friends. You know someone in this situation and you do not even know it,” advises Perez-Gallegos. “Unhealthy relationships are out there and people do not choose them because they are dumb or ignorant. They stay in these relationships not because they cannot do better, but because they are in a difficult situation. That is why we need to start teaching our children at a very early age what is acceptable behavior.”

As with any charity, St. Jude House relies heavily on donations from individuals.

“There is a misconception that, because we apply for grants, that we do not need donations from the community. The truth is we are in great need,” says Perez-Gallegos. “All the services we provide are free to the families. In addition, when our clients leave us, we provide them with clothes and gift cards for groceries and gasoline. I urge people to go to our website and check our wish list.”

For the wish list and other information about donating or volunteering your time, please visit www.stjudehouse.org or call them at (219) 662-7066.