A Mother’s Tribute to Her Daughter’s Dream


Mandy Edwards was poised to be great teacher until, at the age of 17, tragedy struck. Mandy’s legacy lives on, with the help of her mother, making it possible for American educators to work on the continent she loved

It’s an autumn afternoon in mid-November 2008, the day of a school event at Erskine Academy, a small independent high school, in South China, Maine. On its way to Erskine, a car—traveling much too fast—hits a patch of wet leaves and loses control. Mandy Edwards, 17, is killed instantly in the crash. In the blink of eye, the world loses one of its next great teachers.

Mandy, a high school senior in 2008, had already set here eyes on majoring in education the following fall at the University of Maine. From an early age, Mandy had known she wanted to teach. When still in junior high, Mandy would use study halls to help the Kindergarten teachers. By the time she hit high school, Mandy knew her course in life included teaching—quizzing every classroom instructor she could find about what ages they liked to teach, the pros and cons of the job, and why they had been drawn to the profession.

“Mandy was always on the phone with her high school peers, helping them with their Math homework,” says her mother Rebecca Renaud. “She had incredible patience. She wouldn’t just give them the Math answers, but instead worked with them until they truly understood it.”

In the months immediately following the car accident, Rebecca says she was a mess. That changed on the first Mother’s Day after Mandy’s death. “I bought 100 individually wrapped roses and gave one to every woman I saw,” says Rebecca. “With every smile I got, I realized I was getting way more than I was giving. I could feel Mandy smiling down, too.”

Rebecca then launched the Kindness Revolution, a site devoted to spreading happiness and messages of love to its more than 10,000 visitors. Rebecca also knew she wanted to raise money for students in Africa, but was looking for guidance.

Seemingly out of the blue, she received a Facebook invitation to a fundraiser in California—more than 3,300 miles from her home in Maine. It was an invitation to Teach With Africa’s annual Gala event. The next day, as Rebecca was getting off the phone with Margie Schlenoff, founder of Teach With Africa, she knew she had found her answer. Teach With Africa’s mission is to create change by sending educators to South Africa to teach and learn.

“I was inspired by everything Margie Schlenoff wanted to do and stood for,” says Rebecca. Even more, Teach With Africa fell in line with what Mandy stood for.

An Eye on Africa
“Teaching in Africa is something Mandy would have done,” says Rebecca. “She was positive she would volunteer there and talked about it often, even joking she would need to marry a wealthy man so she could continue to do it.”

Mandy, always a diligent student, had already been accepted into the University of Maine Farmington’s teaching program and planned on majoring in elementary education the following fall.

“Mandy wanted to become a teacher because she wanted to make a difference,” says Rebecca.

Finding the Perfect Fit
“Mandy had a smile that made her approachable to every one. It made her real,” says Rebecca. So this summer, Rebecca funded a teacher to be a part of the 2010 Teach With Africa Fellowship with whom she most identified—Katie Burke.

“Katie and Mandy both have these big, warm smiles. That’s something they share,” says Rebecca. In following Katie’s blog about her teaching experience in South Africa this summer, Rebecca has seen something incredible emerge. “Katie has touched these South African students in a deep way. Mandy wanted to be a teacher in Africa because she knew they needed teachers. She knew the students there were eager and willing to learn,” says Rebecca.

“Mandy wanted to bring stories of teaching in Africa back to her students in the United States.”

Paying It Forward
“Three weeks before she died,” says Rebecca, “Mandy talked about life after her own death. She said, ‘I want people to celebrate my life.'”

“Being a part of Teach With Africa has created this amazing legacy,” Rebecca says. “I’m simply doing what Mandy told me.”

Click here to fund a teacher through the Mandy Edwards Scholarship

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