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MindHandHeart Community Innovation Fund Supports 77 Projects During Covid-19

By: Maisie O’Brien, MindHandHeart

2020 was a challenging year— for MIT and the world. Scattered across states, countries, and continents, MIT community members have shown remarkable resiliency and creativity in finding new ways to come together and support one another amidst adversity.

Sponsored and funded by the Office of the Chancellor, the MindHandHeart (MHH) Community Innovation Fund, a grant program advancing projects focused on mental health, well-being, connectedness, and racial justice, has supported a record number of 77 projects during the Covid-19 pandemic.

32 percent of projects are addressing mental health concerns during Covid-19, 35 percent are focused on art and creativity, 30 percent are advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and racial justice at MIT, and 88 percent are building community. 58 percent of projects are led by students, 37 percent are led by staff members, and 5 percent are led by faculty members.

“Our diverse, impactful group of MHH Community Innovation Fund projects is a testament to the compassion and ingenuity of the MIT community,” says Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart. “In a time of stress and uncertainty, it’s inspiring to see our students, faculty, and staff finding ways to help others and strengthen our campus climate, both in-person and virtually.”

Applications submitted from March-October 2020 were reviewed by Chancellor Barnhart, founding MindHandHeart Faculty Chair Roz Picard, Student Mental Health and Counseling Services Clinician Rheinila Fernandes, members of MindHandHeart’s volunteer coalition comprising MIT students, faculty, and staff members as well as representatives from Active Minds, the Undergraduate Association, and the Graduate Student Council.

The Community Innovation Fund launched six years ago with the founding of MindHandHeart. Since then, there has been a 221% increase in projects funded with 215 projects supported to date. Past Community Innovation Fund projects include Random Acts of Kindness Week, the Puppy Lab, My Sister’s Keeper, The Standard, MITell, Sunshine Makes Us Happy, and YOU Belong@MIT.

Executive Administrator of MindHandHeart and Deputy Institute Community and Equity Officer Maryanne Kirkbride reflects on the growth of the Community Innovation Fund, saying: “It’s been exciting to see the fund evolve to help catalyze MIT community members’ good ideas and respond to the changing needs of our community. The accumulated impact of these projects is a stronger, kinder, and more resilient MIT.”

Emily Han 22’ was awarded two Community Innovation Fund grants in 2020. This summer, she launched the Sticker+Together project with her friend Amber Shen 22.’ The pair designed and mailed out hundreds of stickers to MIT community members representing “all the things that make MIT special,” including images of the Charles River, local coffee shops, and the dome. The project also served as a fundraiser for the MIT Student Supplemental Opportunities for Summer Fund, a resource that helps provide meaningful summer internships to MIT students.

This month, Han and her friend Sarah Acolatse 22’ are spearheading their @mit_insta_spirit project, fostering school spirit and positivity through weekly challenges related to cooking, memes, and campus life. 

Han describes the impact of the Community Innovation Fund saying, “I think the MHH Community Innovation Fund is truly amazing because it lets students with amazing ideas get funding in an easily accessible manner. The projects that come out of the fund also have a focus on improving mental health on campus, a topic that can always use more attention, especially during Covid-19. Every project is a testimony to our students’ unwavering energy to take the weirdest, loneliest, and most difficult semesters of our college experience and make them more fun, wholesome, and enjoyable for everyone.”

Graduate Student Richard Zhang was awarded a MindHandHeart Community Innovation Fund grant in the spring of 2020 to spearhead “FAIL! - Inspiring Resilience - the Virtual Engagement,” an initiative to de-stigmatize failure in academia. To date, the team of MIT students, postdocs, and alums behind FAIL! have created 28 podcasts on the topic of failure, imposter syndrome, and creating psychologically safe places for experimentation, creativity, and growth. 

Zhang reflects on MindHandHeart’s early support of the FAIL! the initiative, saying: “The MHH Community Innovation Fund not only gave us our first sponsorship and provided subsequent financial support, but also shared a tremendous amount of staff resources, mentorship, and guidance as we unrolled this audacious project on campus. At every step of the way, MindHandHeart has always been on our side with so much support and enthusiasm.”

Assistant Chaplain Adam Reynolds launched the Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life’s “Distilled Wisdom: Practices for Prospering in the Pandemic” event series with support from the MHH Community Innovation Fund. A collaboration between MIT chaplains of different faiths, Distilled Wisdom is exploring time-tested practices for cultivating gratitude, resilience, and love through conversations between seasoned practitioners of the world’s great religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions. 

Reynolds describes collaborating with MindHandHeart saying: “We are honored for Distilled Wisdom to be one of the many offerings made possible by the MHH Community Innovation Fund. MindHandHeart is not only exceedingly generous in funding these projects, but also plays a special "coaching" role for our community: calling on us to be our best selves, to dig deep into our inner resources of creativity, hope, and goodwill to become a stronger, more caring, and wholehearted community.” 

The MHH Community Innovation Fund cycle is open from March 1-31. MIT staff, faculty, students, and students’ spouses are welcome to apply with ideas to build community and resilience in light of the Covid-19 pandemic; advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and racial justice at MIT; support mental and physical health; encourage healthy sleep, eating, and exercise; spread humor and joy; and welcome new members of the MIT community. 

For a full list of our Community Innovation Fund grantees, visit: