Recent CSF Grant Recipients

Our number one goal is to feed the hungry who come in to see us every Wednesday night. This Soup Kitchen was started by MIT students and has been directed and expanded by students for over two years now. We are hosted and mostly funded by St. Bartholomew's church in Central Square and our student volunteers work alongside local church members who also donate their time in service. The overall hope is to serve the community and make Cambridge a better place because of it. The CSF funding helped us provide this service better than expected this past spring. With support from CSF we were able to order more food for our weekly dinners, restock important paper products we use to serve the meals, and purchase new kitchen equipment to better prepare future food for our guests.  
"There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help." 

We established a D-lab like class (focused on energy and water) for late high school and early undergraduate students. The goal of the project was to work with the participants to creatively solve energy and water problems in their communities by using local resources. A few days and some training later, the students had formed teams that came up with six innovative projects that will serve their communities.

The CSF funding enabled us to buy materials to build devices we designed, create online lessons and buy souvenirs for the students. More information about the inaugural edition is here: 

The CSF funding helped us finance part of the “Club de Ciencias” in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

I graduated from MIT this September with a PhD in Geophysics, and thanks to the funds provided by CSF I could finish my education experience in a very high note by starting to provide mentoring for younger students interested in science.

Club de Ciencias (CdeC) is an organization comprised of grad students of different universities (MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, among others) and we had other sources of funding to provide for airfare and accommodation for all instructors.

CdeC has designed a blended model for science education, combining ex- periential and digital learning. The main building block of our program is the “Clubes de Ciencia“: Intensive Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workshops delivered to high school and college students.

 The workshops were 1 week long from July 27 to August 2nd in Ensenada and in Guanajuato.

The funds from CdeC were used to help several clubs, and in particular the workshop that I organized: “How do rocks flow?”

 ‘’How do rocks flow?” was a weeklong (5 hours a day) workshop for undergraduate and high-school students. The workshop was focused on experiments on analog materials to understand the rheology of the Earth and its implications for natural hazards and industrial applications.

 The students learned about plate tectonics, the cycle of rocks, stress and strain, viscoelastic and viscoplastic rheology and brittle and ductile behaviors.  All the material for this workshop was bought with the CSF fund: projector, laser pointers for the workshops in general, poster printing at MIT copytech for a plate tectonics activity, chocolate and loupe set for the rock cycle, silly putty, modeling clay and corn starch (bought in mexico) for the rheology studies, amplifier, subwoofers and RCA cables to study non Newtonian rheology, and slinky to study wave propagation. My lab provided the material for a photoelastic set-up to illustrate stress concentration along cracks. Other funding from CdeC provided the transportation to a field area where we saw some fossils (Rudists from the late Cretaceous).

Open Style Lab is a summer educational program dedicated to creating innovative clothing solutions for people with disabilities, who often have difficulty dressing independently. Launched for the first time in Summer 2014 on MIT campus, we brought together engineers, designers and occupational therapy students to form interdisciplinary teams. The teams were matched with a client with unique clothing challenges, whose conditions varied from amputations, paraplegia and arthiritis. To emphasize interdisciplianry perspective each team consisted of one design student, one engineering student and one occupational therapy student. There was a total of eight teams. Open Style Lab sessions were held every Saturday, for 10 weeks.

In addition to benefiting from each others' professional skill sets, the student teams were exposed to exceptional mentors and speakers from industry and academia, such as Eileen Fisher, Rhode Island School of Design and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network in Boston. Students were not only introduced to various technologies that they could employ to make their products, but they were also introduced to panel discussions and industry speakers who shared their diverse experiences related to the filed of disability. The organization of these various speakes and panels as well as providing various basic prototype materials for students would not have been possible without the help of CSF funding. 

Our community offering made possible through the help of CSF funding is twofold:

The first is the individual products that we were able to create for the clients. Ranging from a more easily wearable pair of pants with magnetic seams to a shirt that incorporates thermodynamic feature activated by voice command, to name just a couple, the students engineered products that had an immediate impact upon the clients' lives. Our goal was to create products that went beyond the scope of pure functionality. Understanding clothing as a pervasive form of social currency, we felt that there was an uneven distribution of this currency for the disability population. There are a lot of clothing for the disaiblity population, but few, if any, ever take into account the wearer's personal sense of aesthetics. By emphasizing both the design and the engineering aspect of the endeavor, we hoped to contribute toward diversifying the clothing, and therefore, a social interactive option for our clients. 

The other significant result of the summer was the great amount of public attention that Open Style Lab could bring to the challenges of living with a disability. Our program was featured in Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, NCBS; we also had the exciting opportunity to present at New York Fashion Week's Emerging Trends fashion show, where Open Style Lab was the final closing presentation. These public appearances are metrics of success not only for the Open Style Lab program, but more importantly, for the topic of disability and the way in which the subject can be translated into an area of innovation and creativity. We are greatful to MIT's Community Service Fund for providing a solid foundation for building our program.

This summer, I traveled with a group of fellow MIT students to Kara, Togo, to work with an HIV clinic called AED. AED, which stands for Association Espoir pour Demain (Association of Hope for Tomorrow), provides consultations, medication, education, and family planning services to over 2000 HIV-positive patients in the Kara area. An integral part of patient care at AED is the Community Health Worker (CHW) program; CHWs visit patients at their homes, ensuring they are taking their medications correctly and providing basic HIV education . However, the number of patients receiving visits is limited by the distances CHWs must travel. Nearly all of them walk at least 20 minutes between patients, and those who serve more rural populations can expect close to an hour commute. This means that fewer patients have access to the improved care that the CHWs provide. At the suggestion of a staff member at AED, our team set out to purchase bicycles for all fifteen CHWs to help reduce time spent in transit.

Of course, this was not as straightforward as we expected it to be. At first, several CHWs told me they did not want bikes. During the rainy season, they explained, Togo receives some degree of rainfall every day; sometimes it is heavy enough that CHWs are forced to seek shelter, but often it is just a drizzle and they can continue to walk. But on a bike, they told me, they would be soaked even in light rain because of the way bikes tend to kick water up onto their riders. After some discussion, we decided that rain jackets would solve this problem and make the bikes useful year round. The CSF gave its approval to use some of the grant funding for rain jackets, and ultimately each CHW received a bike, a bike lock, a bike helmet, and a rain jacket. This conversation helped me realize just how important it is to be actively involved with the community I am seeking to serve. Had we simply mailed AED a check with instructions to spend the money on bicycles, several bikes could very well have gone unused. By keeping communication open, I believe that we have ensured these resources will be used effectively.

With a quicker means of transportation, the community health workers are able to visit more patients each day. These patients in turn will benefit from the reminders, educational activities, and emotional support the CHWs bring.

Thank you to the Community Service Fund for helping make this project possible!

This summer with the help of the CSF, I travelled to Togo, West Africa as a member of the Grassroots Onsite Work team of GlobeMed at MIT. GlobeMed at MIT is partnered with Hope Through Health, an NGO that supports a system of HIV/AIDS clinics in the northern region of Togo. GlobeMed at MIT spends each year raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS situation in Togo and running campaigns on campus to raise money for the clinics. My project was to serve as a Documentarian. I spent 4 weeks collecting photographs and videos of the clinics, their staff, their patients, and daily life in Togo. Before, during, and after my trip I collaborated with Hope Through Health to provide them with visual media and development material to help their donors better understand the healthcare situation in Togo, and to help them further connect with the clinics' mission. I am currently working with HTH to make a short film about their impact improving the quality of HIV/AIDS care in Togo over the past 10 years, and the importance of working toward healthcare equity in Togo.

Science is cool. It is fun, it is real, it solves many of our problems today. We thought that more teenagers should be able to appreciate the beauty and relevance of science. 

We traveled to Ghana to work with rural schools and improve science eduation. Our project had three main components:

  • Raspberry Pi: a credit-card sized single-board computer, basically a $25 PC . Students should get their hands dirty with some programming at a younger age!
  • Foldscopes: $5 microscopes that provide 2,000X magnification. Let’s have the kids see with their own eyes that microorganisms exist!
  • Improvised lab equipment: beakers are a must in a lab- but why not cut plastic water bottles into two and use the base as a beaker? Isn’t tissue paper a much cheaper version of filter paper? When we need carbon paper to prevent light from entering, can't we just use aluminium foil from cigarette packets.

During our stay in New Longoro, Ghana we encouraged teachers to include hands-on activities in class by:

a) co-authoring a manual with KNUST students (a local university in Ghana),

b) providing them with cheap technology, and creating equipment, experiments or models with readily-available materials,

c) holding teacher training workshops.

In addition, we attended a conference organized by Ghana Association of Science Teachers and shared our experience and resources with over 300 science teachers.

Thu, 07/03/2014

Higg-Lew Leaders (HLL) is an after-school program for 7th and 8th graders at Roxbury’s Higginson-Lewis K-8 School designed to foster youth leadership and community engagement through civics instruction, enrichment classes, and career pathways. The program runs Monday-Thursday 3:45-6:00 where the first hour focuses on civics instruction and literacy skills through discussion of civic issues relevant to kids and schools, such as bullying. The second hour develops student talent in areas such as art, music and cooking.  Thursdays are dedicated to “Career and Success Exploration” where we support student applications to high schools and summer programs and also host a diverse array of guest speakers sharing their career trajectories. In this way, we hope to address the blind spot students across the socioeconomic spectrum have when imagining professional futures between the extremes of entertainment stars and doctors and lawyers. Further, the Career Series allows the program to deliberately build and expand an impressive support network that already includes strategic partnerships with MIT, Northeastern University School of Law, The Young People’s Project, City Year, and Roxbury Multi-Service Center.

As part of a competitive fellowship, two high school students from the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester receive a stipend to tutor HLL middle schoolers, produce a monthly community newspaper, and engage in SAT prep and the college application process with the goal of securing substantial scholarships as seniors.  They serve as role models to the middle schoolers and are able to gain professional development throughout their duration with the program.

It is our goal that HLL students not only build sustainable relationships with volunteer mentors and each other, but that they also be empowered with strategic vision of their futures to become agents of community change.

Fri, 06/27/2014

Three years ago, David Sengeh, PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab, reached out to me to share his vision to inspire a generation of Sierra Leonean youth to make positive change in their communities. The catalyst for this generational shift would be hosting a senior secondary school innovation competition modeled off of the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge.

Three years later, Innovate Salone has made significant strides towards that vision by starting inChallenges, a high school innovation competition, in Sierra Leone and expanding that model to South Africa and Kenya. Early on, inChallenges gained a lot of public exposure through a heavily watched YouTube video of the student Kelvin Doe. This year, in Sierra Leone, they also launched inLabs as a physical space for young people and the greater community to learn, make and do in a Freetown high school

Having volunteered with Innovate Salone for three years, I was excited to have the opportunity to see how Innovate Salone is perceived in Sierra Leone and to gain a greater understanding of how the program fits into the Sierra Leonean context.

This summer, with support from the Community Service Fund, a Rodwin Fellowship, and Public Service Center Grant, I spent two and a half weeks in Sierra Leone working with Innovate Salone. My goal was to review and evaluate the current inChallenges’ model to understand what works well and what could be changed.  

I was able to work closely with the Innovate Salone team and travel to each of the four district headquarters throughout Sierra Leone.  I met with teachers, students and principals at 18 schools – roughly 36% of the over 50 schools that work with inChallenges. I also met with individuals from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology, and UNICEF, that is helping to revamp Sierra Leone’s first grade through eighth grade curriculum.

The travel and the meetings provided insights into the Sierra Leonean culture, the environmental and social context, and people’s experiences with inChallenges.  While I still have a lot to learn, the trip gave me vital insights that were only possible through travel and volunteering.

At the end of my time in Sierra Leone, I shared my recommendations for future changes for inChallenges:

For Innovate Salone:

  1. Clarify the goal of inChallenges
  2. Develop the community; develop the ideas
  3. Clearly communicate inChallenges
  • Context and Culture

Sierra Leone is a small country; the entire population is roughly equal to the population of Washington D.C. A civil war ravaged the country from 1991 to 2002; 50,000 people died in the war and more than two million people were displaced. Infrastructure was destroyed. Schools were closed in many regions. Trust between communities was ruined. 

Many people say the country is still trying to achieve its pre-war reality. Several people suggested the civil war and aftermath of NGOs and foreign aid flooding into Sierra Leone instilled a sense of dependency on external aid, and thus crippled anyone’s desire to change their community themselves.

Sierra Leone has come a long way since its civil war. It’s a relatively peaceful country; it is a model for religious tolerance. Yet, there are many factors at work that limit the country from a greater development. Environmental degradation, limited employment opportunities, gender inequality, corruption, poor public education system, and health challenges such as malaria and the current Ebola virus all threaten Sierra Leone.

The population is young; one third of the population is 15 – 35 years of age. The UNDP estimates that 70% of youth are unemployed or underemployed. Innovate Salone’s inChallenges was designed to respond to these various factors by challenging young people to develop solutions to their local problems. The hope is by encouraging young people to be creative, be involved in their communities and develop new solutions; Sierra Leone would start to evolve through the leadership of the youth.

  • Youth

inChallenges is an annual competition where student teams throughout the country have a chance to enter their ideas for their community to win funding and support. 150 teams in over 50 schools apply each year. Applications show a range of ideas and team experience. For example, teams have developed ideas like: a locally made clothing dye that substantially decreases the cost to produce clothing; a peer-to-peer support group for women students to clarify and correct rumors about topics like sex, pregnancy, and menstrual periods; and radios made by recycling batteries.

A handful of teams submit solutions like, “the government or a philanthropic organization should fund the expenses to keep kids in school.” While this may be a reasonable expectation, Innovate Salone aims to encourage young people to be more active in the problem solving. Teams who base their solutions on funding alone are encouraged to develop solutions that they can help lead and implement.

I spoke with over 60 students about their interest in inChallenges and their work to date. Overall, students were excited about entering inChallenges. For many students, inChallenges is one of the few, if not the only, opportunity for students to be creative and to apply their education to real-world issues.

Education in Sierra Leone is largely based on rote learning. Science, for example, is taught not through hands-on experiments but through copying diagrams onto notebook paper. Students are dissuaded from questioning authority; they’re not allowed to experiment, fail and try again. This environment in combination with a general lack of educational resources limits students’ ability to engage with their education and to develop the skills needed to enable them to open more doors in the future.

Students want to be involved in their communities, whether at the family, school, neighborhood, city, district or national level. Students care a lot about their communities. Their applications provide an insight into how they see the world.

Several teams of students were frustrated by the regular deforestation, disease and pollution. Students were also often concerned about their fellow students. Many students drop out due to abuse by their teachers (flogging), teenage pregnancy, teacher absence, and inability to afford school fees, even at public schools.  The UNDP estimates that only “9.5% of adult women have reached a secondary education or higher compared to 20% of their male counterparts.” Several teams developed solutions to encourage students to stay in school through developing funding for school fees, raising awareness of teenage pregnancy or through encouraging parents to keep track of and encourage student attendance at school.

The students’ concern for their communities was moving; it struck me that inspiring students to be active in their communities is just as, if not more, important than identifying the most innovative ideas.

Meeting young people who were working to save trees and their country from deforestation, design the next Freetown out of paper, and build electrical pumping machines for wells, was inspiring. Several young people said they wouldn’t do what they’re doing if it haden’t been for Innovate Salone.

Thu, 11/21/2013

The Children’s Room (TCR) creates safe, supportive communities so that no child, teen or family has to grieve alone.  At the request of an MIT employee who works closely with the organization,TCR received a grant from the MIT Community Service Fund  to expand their programming in local schools. That grant has enabled the Children's Room to maintain free peer support groups for grieving children and teens in Arlington, Lexington, and Needham schools. TCR has also created an afterschool group at the Boys and Girls Club in Chelsea.
The impact of the Children's Room's programming is transformative for children and teens affected by the loss of a loved one. A quote from the 13 year old son of an MIT employee details his growth through their support:
My father died in a plane crash when I was three-and-one-half years old. I started going to The Children’s Room when I was about five. That’s when I noticed all the other kids in school had two parents. So my mom found The Children’s Room. I will always think of The Children’s Room as a safe place for me to explore what happened when I was so young. Thanks to The Children’s Room and my mom, I have some happy memories with my dad, and I know his spirit lives in me.
The CSF Board applaudes the Children's Room in their service and thanks the MIT community for their support. To learn more, please visit their website.