By: Liam Berti

Lisa Roots, Algonquin Spread the Net team captain and faculty representative, stands with Rick Mercer cutouts made for her team’s lollipop stands.

Algonquin is in first place in the Spread the Net Student Challenge, leading all Canadian post-secondary schools in fundraising with less than a month left in the competition.

The Spread the Net Foundation is a grassroots campaign started by Rick Mercer and former politician Belinda Stronach to help fight the spread of malaria in Africa. Their current campaign challenges students across the country to raise the most amount of money for the organization.

“What’s separating us is that we have gone after staff, faculty, support staff and the entire institution,” said Lisa Roots, faculty representative and team captain. “We’re working together as a giant team and not a specific program.”

The students received a progress report from the foundation on Jan. 23, informing them that Algonquin was leading the post-secondary schools in fundraising with $5,900.

Roots’ team, made up of 14 police foundations students, officially launched its college-wide effort on Jan. 7, by selling lollipops at different locations on campus. While the ongoing sales were designed to kickstart the fundraising and raise awareness for the campaign, the students claim the success of the lollipops caught them by surprise.

“I’ve been blown away by how many lollipops we’ve been selling,” said the team’s top individual fundraiser Riley Jones, whose sister was diagnosed with malaria. “The lollipops were designed to keep us busy and raise steady money, but it’s been crazy.”

While the first few weeks have been encouraging for the group, their ultimate goal is to raise $15,000 by the final day for the competition, Feb. 28.

The student challenge competition began in early September 2012, but the Algonquin team did not formally launch its initiative until the beginning of the winter semester. Despite the late start, the students are leading the way and have upcoming events to help sustain their momentum.

The big event that the students have prepared is a walk-a-thon on Jan. 31. Each team will walk along a designated route on the college campus for 12 hours, attempting to raise the most money along the way.

“Being in the lead and looking at it now, it really wasn’t that long ago that all of this was an idea on a drawing board,” said first-year police foundations student Chris Brown. “Algonquin College has never done this, so we’ve had to start from scratch and make this whole initiative.”

To add incentive for the students, the winner of the challenge will receive a visit from Rick Mercer to tape a portion of The Rick Mercer Report in March of this year.

To date, the Spread the Net Foundation has donated 539,350 bed nets to protect African families from mosquitoes that carry the disease. This year, the foundation is aiming to raise $150,000 through the student challenge to purchase and install 15,000 more nets for families in West Africa.

“Another objective of this is having the college engage as a community,” said Roots. “One of the things that I said to the students was when we win, do you want to be somebody that can say ‘I was a part of that,’ or are you going to be somebody that says ‘I wish I was a part of that.’”