Burning It Down: Sarah Gallardo, Founder Of Sarah Speaks Up

Sarah Gallardo is the founder and executive director of Sarah Speaks Up, a part of both Hartford Business Journal and CT Magazine’s 40 under 40, a 2015 Connecticut Sun Women of Inspiration award winner and served as a UN delegate for the 63rd annual Commission on the status of Women.

Sarah Gallardo also survived ten years of domestic violence.

It was her experience that would eventually lead her to start Sarah Speaks Up which works to encourage, empower, strengthen and support victims and survivors of domestic violence as well as provide education and advance awareness and prevention in our community.

“I first started as a support group attendee,” Gallardo said. “I went to a domestic violence survivor support group for four years after I left my abusive situation. That’s something that I recommend to everyone in an abusive situation. It’s one thing to get one-on-one therapy, but when you’re in a room full of people, who understand what you are going through, you don’t feel so alone, you don’t feel so isolated. That was a huge boost for me.”

After four years of attending the support group, Gallardo learned that the women who was facilitating the group was moving out of state. But before leaving she encouraged Gallardo to become a certified domestic violence counselor.

“It took a little bit because I was really comfortable in the client’s seat at that time,” Gallardo said. “But I did go out of my comfort zone and became a certified domestic violence counselor through the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.”

“From there, I began doing public speaking. It started small, it would be like rotary clubs or town legislation just speaking from survivor input. Every time I would speak that brought another speech and another speech.”

Every time that Gallardo would give a speech, people would come up to her afterwards to talk to her.

“Some people were in an abusive situation but weren’t sure until they heard my story,” Gallardo said. “That just told me, ‘There’s a need here for this.’ I just made the choice to meet that need.”

Thus, began Sarah Speaks Up. Despite the nerves that could come with telling her story, Gallardo credits her first passion, singing, to her stage presence.

“I went to Berklee College of Music for Vocal Performance,” she said. “So, I always had a stage presence and the Annunciation and ability to project my voice. That really lent itself well to being a speaker and telling my story I wasn’t as nervous in front of a crowd as some people would be.”

Along with Sarah Speaks Up, Gallardo is hoping to launch a new program, Veterans for Victims, which would have military veterans accompany and escort domestic violence victims to and from court when facing their abuser. It is another way in which Gallardo hopes to strengthen and support domestic violence victims.

“I went to give victim input at a parole hearing for my ex-husband,” Gallardo said. “He wasn’t even present in the room. I was there with my best friend and my boyfriend at the time, I had people with me and I had already become a domestic violence counselor. I wasn’t concerned or worried going in, but the moment I saw him on that TV screen and heard his voice my hands started shaking. It was my body’s response to panic.

“I thought to myself, ‘What must this be like for someone who doesn’t have all the things that I had?'”

While Veterans for Victims isn’t available to the public just yet, Gallardo said that with funding, it definitely will be in her lifetime.

“Veterans and domestic violence victims are two groups of people in our society who have the highest rate of PTSD,” she said. “I thought if we could shine a light on this, we could not only help these victims but we could also help these veterans to feel a part of the community, to understand that they’re not alone and that there are other people who are going through what they are going through.”

Gallardo has also wrote a book, titled, “Hiding in Plain Sight: A Glimpse into the Reality of Domestic Violence” which was published in October of 2017.

“It’s only 97 pages long and the reason I kept it as a short book is because I don’t want to browbeat the reader with over telling or overwhelming with whatever feeling they have,” she said. “I just wanted to give them a look in. The second half of the book is definitions and resources, ‘How to get help, what to say, where to go.'”

Writing the book was anything but a therapeutic process for Gallardo. She said that it was the first time that she was able to experience everything that she had been through emotionally and almost wasn’t able to finish.

“I wasn’t even able to take part in the editing process in the way that most people are,” Gallardo said. “Most people submit their manuscripts to their editor and they get it back and approve things and really hone it together. My editor, Heather Habelka, was an angel. I said ‘Heather I cannot touch this anymore, please take this from me and do what you will with it.’ She did an amazing job.”

Gallardo is burning it down by helping those in her community who can’t help themselves. By telling her story, she has helped others speak up about their own, and continued to advocate for domestic violence awareness.