At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we believe every child should have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential – both as individuals and citizens. We believe that by changing the course of young lives we can in turn be changing the course of a community’s future.
Start Talking is a place where we want to raise awareness of key issues that face today’s youth. We will sometimes advocate, sometimes educate, sometimes inform, sometimes ask questions and always invite discussion about the pressing concerns that involve the younger generations of today.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Big Brothers Big Sisters: A Big Part of My Life.

When asked to write a guest blog about my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, my first thought was – “this is going to be a really long piece!” Only because I’ve been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters for over 17 years of my life in various capacities. And I anticipate being involved for several years to come. I’m a former little, an alumni, and a staff member of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

At the age of 10 years old, my mother (a single parent) registered my sister and myself with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area. In the subsequent 8 years, I had a wonderful older sister who was a fantastic mentor, role model and guide as I overcame various difficulties in my childhood and adolescence. At the age of 12 years old, my father passed away, which continues to be a struggle in my life. With the support of my Big Sister, family and friends, I was able to get through it emotionally. Of course, the death of a parent takes a toll on a family, not just emotionally but financially. For many years, my mother worked two jobs in order to provide for my sister and I. I started working part-time as a teenager in order to help pay rent for my family. The thought of paying tuition for a post-secondary education was not a priority, with the other more basic resources needed. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada came to the rescue! In 2003, my caseworker and Executive Director of the Edmonton, Liz O’Neill, nominated me for the CIBC YouthVision Scholarship. CIBC and BBBS Canada accepted the nomination and funded this dream! I still remember calling my mother on the phone to tell her the great news and all I could hear was her uncontrollable sobbing of joy. The scholarship remunerated an undergraduate degree of my choice, anywhere in Canada. In addition, I received paid internships for 6 summers at any not-for-profit organization of my choice. This allowed me to build my network of community organizations including The Youth Restorative Action Project, The Edmonton John Howard Society, The Elizabeth Fry Society and the YMCA. Even today, I cannot describe the feeling of gratitude and hope this opportunity brought to my life. And I can honestly say that it single-handedly led me to where I am as a young professional today.

If this was not enough positive karma in my life, a few years later, my younger sister received the same scholarship from Big Brothers Big Sisters and was able to pursue her post-secondary education in Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. On the day we found out, I truly believed my mother would have used up all of her tears of joy.

After completing my undergraduate degree in Criminology at the University of Alberta, I went on to work as a Probation Officer for the Alberta Government. After one year, I realized that my passion lies in the not-for-profit sector, particularly in the area of youth at risk (I wonder why?). I spent one year as an Executive Director of a small charitable organization in Edmonton (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area was generous enough to offer me workspace) before moving on to the next phase of young adulthood.

In 2009, I decided to pursue my education at McGill University in Montreal, in the area of Public Relations. This was my first time away from home, living as an independent adult. My first concern was being employed in order to pay my rent and food. Liz O’Neill, my long-time supporter from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton, referred me to the Montreal agency to start as a part-time caseworker in their agency, for which I was grateful. After I completed my graduate studies the following year, I decided to stay in Montreal because of my wonderful employment and my great relationships with my colleagues at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Montreal. Working with a team of amazing women, under the leadership of Executive Director Ginette Sauvé, changed and enhanced my life. Not only was the work done by the staff and volunteers at that agency remarkable, I was able to witness first-hand, the difference they made in the lives of thousands of children and youth every year. My colleagues at the Montreal agency were my family: there for me professionally, personally, and emotionally, particularly, Mme. Sauvé was a mentor and role model for me. Starting off as a part-time caseworker, I quickly was promoted to various positions ending with Coordinator for the In-School Programs, under her guidance.

In the Fall of 2012, I made the hard decision to settle down in Edmonton, close to my friends and family. At the first opportunity, Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area offered me the position of Manager of Development. Quite the honor for me to be working in a management position with one of the largest BBBS agencies in Canada! I just started the position in January 2013 and can tell you, that after a few days, it’s my home. And I’m so grateful to have an opportunity to work directly with the woman who has been part of my life for a very long time: Liz O’Neill. I came back full circle to the agency where I started as a child. It’s where I belong.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Montreal changed my life. Without their support and presence, I may have been a very different person with limited opportunities. Right now, I owe my success as a young professional to them.
I’m definitely a Big Brothers Big Sisters “lifer”.

-Danisha Bhaloo

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