Creating Greater Access to Legal Support: My Experiences with the Elizabeth Fry Society

Danielle wears a mask and holds a clipboard and she stands outside closed doors in a professional setting.

By Danielle Bailey-Heelan

What did your Stretch Experience involve?

My Stretch Experience was with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Northern Alberta (EFRY) where I contributed in various ways. I worked as a Court Worker, triaging individuals through to duty counsel, and providing general information on legal proceedings and support for disadvantaged populations. Early on, my Stretch Experience faced obstacles due to COVID-19, which ultimately resulted in my project expanding beyond this role. Although difficult, ultimately this challenge allowed me to exercise greater creativity within my project and exit my comfort zone.

Upon the re-opening of the Court program, I resumed my role as Court Worker. I was given greater responsibility where I oversaw domestic court every Wednesday and Friday by myself. With my increasing knowledge of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and the network I built with the various duty counsel, I have assisted hundreds of people over the past few months. I provided emotional support, information about general court proceedings, legal referrals, and triaged people through to duty counsel based on their differing needs. Also, I often covered the Case Management Office Desk during the lunch hour, which involved similar duties with some additional tasks, such as filling out disclosure forms and connecting people to the Mental Health Diversion Program.

I worked with Dr. Jana Grekul, a University of Alberta criminology professor, and wrote a 21-page literature review. The literature review focused on Indigenous women and the cyclical experience they often have with the criminal justice system and incarceration.Moreover, I looked at the specific challenges Indigenous women experience post-incarceration. This additional research contributed to the interdisciplinary nature of my project. Not only did I experience the CJS in a strictly legal sphere, but I explored it through a sociological, psychological, and criminological lens, among other disciplines I encountered throughout my research.

Throughout the project, I attended EFRY presentations, volunteer meetings, and touchpoints with my supervisor. Additionally, I fundraised on behalf of EFRY by advertising their fundraisers and reaching out to people about donating. 

Danielle sits at a desk surrounded by paperwork and is typing on a laptop. She appears to be smiling at the camera even though she's wearing a mask.

So what?

I was proud to contribute a social benefit by helping approximately 50-60 individuals in need of legal and emotional support on a weekly basis, and bolstering EFRY through fundraising. EFRY is absolutely integral to the functioning of the Edmonton Provincial Courthouse, especially given changes caused by COVID-19, and it’s a vital service for disadvantaged populations attending legal proceedings. I got to help individuals in need of legal assistance while furthering my knowledge of the court system⏤preparing me for my future career⏤and developing my leadership skills and abilities.

I grew during this project because the obstacles I faced throughout my project took me out of my comfort zone. As someone who always likes to have a clear plan and role, I had expected to serve my project in one role that I could excel in. Instead, I had to adjust and navigate different and unknown terrains. Ultimately, this offered diverse opportunities to grow in new and unexpected ways.

When creating the proposal for my project, I had hoped the opportunity would help affirm my career path and provide me practical experience in the legal realm. Early on, I found my time in the courthouse was exhilarating, and I enjoyed the pace and intellectual rigour. However, more importantly, I saw the great impact the legal system has on many lives and the capacity lawyers have to better these experiences. Now, I have confirmed my desire to be a lawyer; not only will I enjoy it, but I believe I can have a great influence in this profession that will be meaningful to my purpose as a leader. 

Now what?

Although I have completed my Stretch Experience, I continue to volunteer twice a week within the court program. It has been very rewarding to continue to contribute to the important needs EFRY fulfills. Furthermore, I continue to develop my relationship with clients who continue to come to court for their matters which has helped me to build my connections and ensure that those I interact with feel heard, comfortable, and more confident in what their next step is. I have also worked to fundraise and spread awareness of EFRY’s significance and the great value of the Court Program to the Edmonton community. 

Going forward, this experience has been vital to my personal strategy by clarifying several aspects of my career path and providing me with a strong footing to begin this path. As I pursue my career, I will remember these experiences and the great influence my position can have for marginalized communities.

I’d like to thank the Peter Lougheed Leadership College staff, who assisted me throughout the course of my project, and Dr. Jana Grekul. Also, thanks is owed to the EFRY staff, who trained and mentored me as well which helped me to improve individually as a leader and a professional. Further, they have been such a warm and welcoming team to me throughout this experience which allowed me to look forward to my work each and every week. Overall, all my mentors helped me grow to be more independent and confident. My development, through mentorship, has enabled me to take on my own mentorship role such as training new volunteers of the court program. I hope that with my new experiences and confidence, I can continue to demonstrate my leadership and serve as a mentor to others.

star certificate in PLLC colours

Danielle Bailey-Heelan is an undergraduate student studying Political Science in the Faculty of Arts. She was recognized with the 2020 Tavender Award, a $5,000 donor-funded award given to a scholar who has completed the objectives of the Stretch Experience and demonstrated exceptional growth and development throughout the Stretch Experience program.

1 Response

  1. Donald R. Bailey, QC

    Obviously a life enlightening, enhancing and broadening experience, well described and appreciated by a proud grandfather.


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