Karen Leonard OAM and why she founded the Lifestart Foundation
Karen Leonard is an Australian who has resided in her home town of Essendon in Victoria all of her life. For the past 42 years she successfully ran a small business, the Karen Leonard Music School, which has afforded her to be able to volunteer her time to Lifestart Foundation projects.
Several years ago while backpacking in Vietnam, Karen met a young street kid and they had an instant connection. He introduced Karen to his world; his fellow street kid-friends and their families. It wasn’t long before Karen was supporting a number of these street kids by encouraging them back to school and paying their education costs.
After returning home from her first trip and deeply affected by the plight of these people, Karen made a commitment that she would return to Vietnam and support this young boy along with a few others.
Later in the year at Karen’s annual friends and family Christmas Eve Party, she suggested instead of buying the usual obligatory Christmas present that everyone was to put into a hat the amount of money they would normally spend on a present. A pledge was made that on her return trip to Vietnam she would help a poor family to improve their life with that money. The idea was wholeheartedly embraced and so began Karen’s Lifestart Foundation journey.
Initially Karen’s help and assistance in Vietnam was rather “ad hoc”. However, as word got around, friends and family continued to donate more money to help children and families in Vietnam.
Whilst Karen had no problem receiving donations from people she knew and trusted, she became uncomfortable when friends of friends she didn’t know began to give her money to take to Vietnam. Karen decided that she needed to formalise the work she was doing in order to be accountable to all of these people. The Lifestart Foundation was registered in Australian under NGO registration Number A0045550E and in Vietnam under PACCOM AT416.
Prior to her first trip to Vietnam, Karen never imagined that she would be doing this kind of work for the rest of her life. Indeed, she had envisaged being semi-retired by now, taking it easy and enjoying the fruits of her labour in relative comfort!
Karen has no plans for any type of retirement and has never worked harder. She views her 42 years of running a small business and teaching music to the privileged as an extremely long apprenticeship for what has become a lifetime commitment to the organisation.
In January 2017, Karen Leonard was awarded the prestigious OAM Order of Australia. The Order of Australia is the principal and most prestigious means of recognising outstanding members of the community at a national level and nominations are encouraged from all members of the Australian public. https://www.gg.gov.au/australian-honours-an…/order-australia