Moonee Valley Leader – July 26, 2004
By Sally Norris

AFTER 30 years of traipsing through Third World countries, Karen Leonard decided she could not turn a blind eye to childhood poverty any longer.

The Essendon-based piano teacher has been backpacking all over the world, but it was five years ago when she visited Vietnam that her life changed.

“I thought, I can’t keep wandering through these countries and ignoring the children,” she said.

“It was time to do something about it and I was at a stage in my life where I was able to.”

Ms Leonard met 13-year-old street kid Thanh who was working to support his family of six.

She was deeply affected by the plight of Thanh, so she decided to take him on as a foster child.

“I had such a strong connection with him and desire to help him,” she said.

Ms Leonard witnessed first-hand the transformation of Thanh, who now works in his dream job as a chef.

She said through Thanh, she had met a “massive network” of street kids.

Early this year, Ms Leonard decided to channel all of her efforts into creating a charity to help help underprivileged children and families in Vietnam.

And so the Lifestart Foundation was born.

She now visits Vietnam twice a year to assess and interview possible recipients of Lifestart Foundation funds.

“I’ve taught thousands of privileged kids piano, now I’m going to spend the next part of my life working with damaged and broken kids,” she said.

Lifestart Foundation is sponsoring street kids into apprenticeship programs and entire families through its Adopt a Family program. Ms Leonard said 100 per cent of funds raised went to the children and families in need.

“I’ve certainly got out of this 1000 times more than what I’ve put in,” she said.

“The change you can make is such a great feeling. A few dollars can make a massive difference to them, even though its only a pittance to us.”

On Saturday, August 7, Ms Leonard is holding a dinner dance with all funds raised to go directly to the foundation.

It is being held at 501 Receptions in Barkly St, Footscray. Tickets are $60, which includes a three-course meal and drinks.