Danisha Bhaloo (’07 BA) had law school in her sights when she decided to study criminology at the University of Alberta. But halfway through her program, her path changed.
“I had to do practicums at two different agencies,” says Bhaloo. At the Elizabeth Fry Society, she attended court to help women accused of offences understand the trial process. Bhaloo also worked at the John Howard Society, helping victims of domestic abuse understand the legal system.
Working with troubled people isn’t easy, but it was a natural fit for Bhaloo, who understood the complex social issues underlying crime. “There’s always that stigma with offenders, that they’re bad people and wasting taxpayers’ dollars,” she says. “Not a lot of people get to know them as people.”
Bhaloo “fell in love” with helping people – both victims and perpetrators of crimes – find ways out of their existing circumstances. “And I realized I didn’t need a law degree to do it,” she says.
After a brief stint as a Probation Officer, Bhaloo became Director of Programming for the Edmonton Inner City Children’s Program, an agency that provides recreational and educational programming for at-risk kids in Edmonton’s McCauley and Boyle Street neighbourhoods. Fundraising, event organization and promotional work for the organization really appealed to Bhaloo, so she went on to complete a graduate diploma in Public Relations at McGill University, with a focus on the non-profit sector.
Bhaloo “fell in love” with helping people find ways out of their existing circumstances.
Now, Bhaloo is Manager of Fund Development for Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area. The position also involves special events planning, applying for grants and fundraising. All of Bahloo’s efforts add up to about $6 million a year, although the 28-year-old is modest: “I feel like anyone can be a fundraiser, as long as you really believe in the cause.”
It’s certainly a cause Bhaloo can get behind; she’s been involved with the agency for nearly two decades. Following the death of her father, Bhaloo’s mother registered both of her daughters in Big Brothers Big Sisters to ensure they had positive role models while she worked two jobs to make ends meet. “I stayed in the program until I was 18,” she says, “then they gave me a scholarship that paid for my undergraduate at the U of A.” After completing her education, Bhaloo was delighted to have the opportunity to work for the organization that helped her launch her career: “It feels like home. It’s comfortable and great to work there.”
On top of this, Bhaloo is involved with the Ismaili Council for Edmonton as chairperson of the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Edmonton. The board comes up with programs for kids within Edmonton’s Ismaili community. “It could be ball hockey or soccer leagues for the little ones, or mentorship programs for at-risk youth in the community. We also do skate nights and movie nights,” she explains. “Things to bring the community together.”
Not surprisingly, Bhaloo has been formally recognized for her community contributions. Last year, she was named to Avenue magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 and Edmontonians magazine’s Sizzling 20 Under 30. But for all of the recognitions she’s received, Bhaloo remains humble: “I’m grateful because I have good supports around me. That’s why I’ve been able to do everything I’ve done.