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Teacher inspires students to change their world

Date: 6/30/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Patricia Mahoney, a health teacher at North Middle School, challenges her students each semester to help improve the lives of those at home and abroad as citizens of the world.

She was shocked to realize that her challenge to raise $5,000 for Nothing But Nets -- an organization that provides $10 mosquito nets to prevent exposure to malaria -- would snowball into a magnanimous endeavor yielding over $18,000 for multiple charities.

"This project certainly came from powers much greater than me; I just helped to facilitate it and it really took on a life of its own," Maloney said, adding that students took it upon themselves to organize bake sales, car washes and pancake breakfasts to help raise funds for the cause. "[The outcome] is a tribute to these kids."

Amy DiElsi, communications director for Nothing But Nets, noted that funds raised by those at North Middle School will help over 1,000 people in Africa.

"We've been extremely thankful for the continued support and we think it's because for just $10 anyone can save a life," she said. "I think what's really great about the students in Massachusetts is that all of the little donations add up to make one huge impact."

Mahoney explained that $9,688 will be donated to Nothing But Nets and the remaining funds will be given to Billy's Malawi Project in Cape McClear, Malawi. The project is a non-profit organization founded by Ireland native Margaret Riordan in honor of her son who had a deep affection for the community.

"She gives a voice to the voiceless," Mahoney said of Riordan, who visited North Middle School this year to discuss Billy's Malawi Project. "I think that's what the kids needed . [to see] an actual village so we know where [the nets] are going. It was something that the kids could actually touch [with Riordan's photographs and artifacts]."

Mahoney noted that not all were receptive to her challenge, however.

"I think there was a lot of negative energy thinking that we should work in America only," she explained. "I didn't get any negativity from the kids; the negativity came from adults, not from kids."

She added that despite criticism, her students persevered.

"I wanted these kids to see that we're a [small] part of a big movement [to improve the quality of life for all people]," Mahoney said.

She explained that she hasn't chosen a challenge for the fall semester as of yet but will continue to search for a means to inspire her students to help change their piece of the world.

For additional information about Nothing But Nets, visit

Details about Billy's Malawi Project may be obtained at