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"I get my clients and my company involved,” she says. “They enjoy it and the charities benefit. It’s a win-win-win"

LoAn Vo

LoAn Vo surveyed the scene of endless golf tournaments and saw no need for another.

She wanted to help local charities and couldn’t bear to build one more high-dollar get-together on the greens.

“My friends and I play tennis and, in the tennis community, there’s not a lot of events,” she says.

To fill the gap, Vo created “Tennis with the Stars,” a low-cost tourney where average Joes team with local celebrities to raise money for low-income kids.

“She did a fantastic job,” says Carlo Kriekels, executive director of the YESS Institute, which teaches kids to be successful in life. “We’re a smaller organization, we don’t have the staff to put on an event and she really came through for us.”

An investment banker at W.G. Nielsen & Co., Vo (BS  biological sciences ’02, MBA ’05) created the tournament three years ago and drives the project to completion every year. She wrangles celebrities, rounds up sponsors, secures the location and works with the charities that benefit. At the event, which is the last Saturday in August, Vo floats among her friends, her clients, local celebrities, business execs and leaders in the nonprofit world.

“I get my clients and my company involved,” she says. “They enjoy it and the charities benefit. It’s a win-win-win.”

Vo’s so comfortable moving among the business, celebrity and charity communities, you’d think she was to the manner born. Not true. Black-tie parties and bold-face names are entirely new for Vo.

Born in Vietnam, Vo arrived in the United States at age 6. When her parents decided to leave Vietnam, they had more kids (five) than dollars (two).

The middle child, LoAn landed in Denver in the midst of her first-grade year at Valverde Elementary School. She spoke no English and could not understand the teachers or other students.

“I kicked and screamed and cried and cried and cried,” she says. “I didn’t know what the teacher was telling me or if my parents were leaving me for good.”

Second grade was a little better and third grade better still. Fifth grade, however, was the game-changer. That year, the Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation adopted Vo’s class.

“The I Have A Dream Foundation really became my family,” Vo says. Created by Chris Romer, the foundation mentored kids, taught life skills, took them on Outward Bound-type camping trips and guided their transition from elementary school through high school and into college.

“They helped us prepare for taking the SAT, the ACT, writing a personal statement,” Vo says. “I don’t know how anyone could navigate the process without help.”

Vo chose DU because it was a great school and close to home. Her parents, who never learned English, had started landscaping and fashion businesses and still needed her help.

Vo graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and contemplated medical school.

“I was studying for the MCAT and realized there are other ways to help people,” she says.

Having helped her parents run their businesses, Vo decided an MBA was more her dream than an MD. She graduated from DU’s Daniels College of Business in 2005, took a job in finance and still found time to get into the local charity scene.

“Any charitable event that I’m involved with, and they are numerous, she’s there,” says Josh Hanfling, a nonprofit coordinator in Denver.

After helping Hanfling on his many events, Vo recruited him to help on Tennis with the Stars.

“She’s very good at trying to give the credit to others and that’s a great quality,” Hanfling says. “But on this one, it’s all her. She’s the one who runs the meetings and keeps things moving.”

Ever since fifth grade, when the I Have A Dream Foundation adopted her, Vo knew she wanted to repeat the favor. Now, with a tennis racquet in hand, she’s moving that dream forward.

The next charity tournament will be 1 p.m. Aug. 27 at Gates Tennis Center in Denver. For more information about Tennis with the Stars, view this PDF or contact Vo at 303-880-5735 or loan.t.vo@gmail.com.

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