A Life of Advocacy and Giving Back to the Community

Helen McLeanjumping into Charlie's Rainbow Star Jump Challenge

Helen jumping into Charlie's Rainbow Star Jump Challenge

There have been many pivotal moments in Helen McLean’s career that have underpinned her passion to serve and support the most vulnerable in our community.

Helen always has and will always be an advocate. All throughout a string of high-powered roles in fundraising and not-for-profit organisations – Guide Dogs, Animal Welfare League, MS Society to name a few – Helen has maintained supportive and influential relationships with a number of women as a mentor.

None more so than Kelly Stevens, who she has mentored since early apprenticeships through to setting up her own hairdressing salon.

Helen met Kelly Stevens more than two decades ago when the talented hairdresser was in the midst of her apprenticeship. The client-hairdresser relationship blossomed into a friendship over the 24 years of sitting in the salon chair, and when tragedy hit Kelly and her 17-month-old son Charlie, she turned to Helen to guide her through creating a lasting legacy.

Now, Kelly has successfully set up Charlie’s Rainbow, and currently is staging a number of unique fundraising initiatives, including an upcoming fitness challenge – the Charlie's Rainbow Move and Star Jump Challenge – to raise money for AML research.

When the two women came together, they pledged that every single cent raised would be invested in AML research at the University of South Australia.


UniSA Researcher Dr Richard D'Andrea with Kelly Stevens

UniSA Researcher Professor Richard D'Andrea with Kelly Stevens


Helen intimately understands the power of someone believing in you and seeing your potential which can support or even drive you to greater things.

Growing up in a lower socio-economic area, Helen left school after year 10 as she says there was no imperative to stay. At the time she didn’t have the tools or mentors to support a different outcome.

After years in the workforce, Helen was searching for a new start and began an MBA at UniSA. Here, a senior lecturer provided a breakthrough moment in Helen’s life when she least expected, and most probably really needed it.

“I was delivering a presentation which was well received by my fellow students, the lecturer understood me and knew it was a good presentation, but he also knew it could have been better. He knew I was ‘coasting’, and he challenged me,” she says.

Long before Simon Sinek, the lecturer sat back and asked Helen, ‘Why? I need you to think more differently about the why. You're capable of more, you're just not thinking deeply enough.’ From this moment, she really understood the value of authentic mentoring.

As in Helen’s case, taking the opportunity to mentor a student or inexperienced professional can really make such a positive difference to their study, careers and personal lives. “My lecturer took the time to help me grow, to dive deeper, and not accept the status quo – all gifts which cannot be bought and can only be given,” she says.

“It was a moment of truth – he called me out while clearly believing I could achieve more,” Helen says. “It is so important that we invest in each other and encourage each other. Being mentored is a gift.”

Helen’s MBA at UniSA provided her with many personal and professional gifts, not the least of which has defined her career leading a number of major not-for-profit organisations as CEO and giving her the opportunity to give back to the community and the people in it.

Now it is Helen’s turn to support Kelly and her family with fundraising initiative Charlie’s Rainbow, after they lost their three-year-old son, Charlie, to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in January 2021.

Kelly has established Charlie’s Rainbow in her son’s honour and partnered with UniSA to raise funds for paediatric cancer research at the University


Kelly’s research skills identified that UniSA’s Head of Acute Leukaemia Laboratory Professor Richard D’Andrea was the person to spearhead this important AML Research and that Charlie’s Rainbow would back him all the way with 100% of funds raised going to this research.

“I met Kel at the peak of her professional learning, and her professionalism and skill as a hairdresser is second to none. Over the years she has also become a friend,” Helen says. “All these efforts are in honour of her son Charlie, and his inspiring spirit, after losing his battle with childhood cancer just over a year ago.”

For Helen, it all comes back to the ‘Why?’ again.

“It is 2022 – why do we not have a cure for children’s AML yet? Why are Mums and Dads and families losing their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, to this wicked disease,” she says. “It’s time for all of us to come together and ask ‘Why?’ and get behind this research and save these little lives. There could be no better gift in life than to do that and I want to be part of it.”

“Every time I ask ‘Why?’ I think of UniSA and my lecturer. It’s time to stop. It’s time to fundraise. It’s time to support a cure through the UniSA research team who have been such a strong caring support to Kel and her family on this journey to a cure.”

“The way to support AML research at UniSA is here… Let’s use the power of us to end AML.”


UniSA Cancer Research Institute

Raise funds for paediatric cancer research at UniSA

When you give today, 100% of funds received goes directly to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia Research at the University of South Australia for kids just like Charlie.

Donate now

Charlie was 17 months old when he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and after a heroic fight, eventually passed away at only three years old. His family have established Charlie’s Rainbow in his honour, and partnered with the University of South Australia (UniSA), to raise funds for paediatric cancer research at the University. 100% of funds received goes directly to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia Research at University of South Australia for kids just like Charlie.

Throughout the month of February Kelly and Charlie’s Rainbow are staging ‘Charlie’s Rainbow “Move” Challenge’. Charlie’s Rainbow challenges you to meet your move goal every day for the month of February 2022. Set your own goals, whether they are to move 15 minutes or one hour plus a day, you choose your level.

Read about Charlie’s incredible life and how UniSA researchers are working towards eradicating cancer here. You can show your support to Charlie, and children just like him, by joining in or making a donation today.


Join challenge


Kelly Steven's with her sons