The Cambridge Community Foundation sees finding and fostering the next generation of social innovators as part of its core mission to support a robust nonprofit sector. We created the Imagined in Cambridge! Social Innovation Award in 2019 to uncover emerging innovators working to solve some of our most intractable social problems. Through this annual Award cycle, the Foundation and its Award judges seek out innovators with creative, light-touch ideas that inspire new models for improving the quality of life for people in Cambridge—and hopefully the broader world. To date, the Foundation has awarded funds to 15 exceptional social innovators in our community. Learn about our award winners below! We look forward to announcing our 4th cohort of winners on October 7, 2022.

Meet the 2019 Award Winners!

On May 31, 2019, the Cambridge Community Foundation announced the recipients of its first-ever Social Innovation Award during its Cambridge Community Foundation Salutes 150 Cambridge Nonprofits event. Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern named Sisters Unchained, a program supporting teenage daughters of incarcerated parents, as the first-place winner awarding them $5,000, joined by four more winnersThe Black Student Union at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School; Cambridge Trades Task Force; Good Bank; and the South Asian Worker’s Center — each receiving $1,000. The five award-winners offer innovative solutions to big social problems such as mass incarceration, systemic racism, lack of post-high school job training, high-interest payday loans, and barriers to economic mobility for low-income, immigrant women.  

Sisters Unchained

Sisters Unchained was founded by Cantabrigian Ayana Aubourg, Meron Teklehaimanot, an alumna of the Cambridge Housing Authority’s Work Force Program funded by CCF, and Vanessa Ly—three women of color who were directly affected by the criminal justice system and saw first-hand that the epidemic of mass incarceration of black and brown people affects entire families, especially women. The founders took it upon themselves to create safe and supportive spaces for daughters of incarcerated parents to heal and advocate for their parents’ release. Through programs centered in mutual support and healing, mentorship, collective action, learning, and advocacy, they strive to end generational trauma and foster confident, Black and Brown women leaders. Sisters Unchained evolved from a summer pilot project in 2015 to a year-round program, offering workshops rooted in radical education to develop political and self-awareness, as well as an intentional space for healing, creative expression, and sisterhood for girls ages 14 to 19. “Women are really holding down our communities and...there’s an incredible need: one in 20 children have had experience with an incarcerated parent in Massachusetts,” Ayana said. “When my father was doing a sentence, my whole family was punished as well. I’m really moved by the vision of thinking about how we can keep our parents and their children together.” 

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Good Bank

If a friend can’t afford $25 to buy medicine, or a neighbor needs $10 for her child’s school field trip, Corinne Espinoza’s “Good Bank” can help. Corinne started the project by making small loans at 0% interest to people who need them. In a pilot program, Corinne made more than 300 loans ranging in size from $5 to $75, with a total of $1,000. And when COVID-19 happened, they immediately changed the model by forgiving all outstanding loans and switching to giving out microgrants. Over a span of just a few weeks in 2020, Good Bank granted nearly $6,000 and counting, modeling its emergency direct giving after groups like Black Lives Matter Cambridge and Black Lives Matter Boston. Corinne’s idea is rooted in Black and Brown community solutions for economic support and informed by her own experience of living in poverty. 

Black Student Union at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

Systemic racism is still deeply embedded today, impacting the lives of youth within our Cambridge public school system, and the wider community. Two years ago, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students decided to revive the Black Student Union (also named among the Scout Cambridge Magazine’s “2018 Do-Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changes”) to spearhead important anti-racism and Black empowerment equity work to better educate and progress our school system and community. The group proposes multiple solutions, including anti-racism curriculum and monthly staff trainings on anti-bias to address systemic and institutional racism and discrimination within CPSD, coupled with hosting speaker series on race, and a scholarship for graduating seniors, among other initiatives.

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South Asian Workers’ Center

The South Asian Workers’ Center (SAWC) is a Boston-based non-profit organization which provides a forum for low-income South Asian communities living in public housing in and around the Boston area. It is estimated that there are approximately 40 thousand people who fit this description. The work of SAWC since its inception in 2018 has focused on bringing together diverse South Asian groups within the public housing community under one umbrella, building connections between them, and identifying the major challenges they are facing as immigrants in the US. “Culture helps us be connected and gives us a reason to live,” said SAWC’s founder and president Jyoti Sinha, adding that for SAWC, cultural and social wellbeing sometimes means breaking with tradition. “As South Asians, we’re taught not to talk about our feelings,” Jyoti said. “People are struggling, we’re supporting them to open up. Breaking stigmas and cutting loneliness—it’s transforming lives.” 

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Cambridge Trades Task Force

The Cambridge Trades Task Force aims to serve as a city-wide resource for Cambridge youth with a goal of increasing awareness of trades education and opportunities; trades careers should be a more readily available option for students. This new initiative was proposed by Lisette Williams, a graduate of Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, who noticed a general lack of encouragement, training, and supports, resulting in very few Cambridge youth prepared for trades careers. In addition, there seems to be an absence of available trades career training programs, employment opportunities, and educational resources in Cambridge that are dedicated to Cambridge youth – the Cambridge Trades Task Force aims to change this. “This is about creating a pipeline so high school students really interested in these careers can go straight into the trades without losing any traction—because we know that when young people are not engaged and motivated, they can fall off track,” Lisette said. 

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2020’s Award Winners!

Our second annual Imagined in Cambridge! Social Innovation Award recognized five grassroots projects that nurture strong communities and tackle systemic barriers to equity and opportunity. blackyard, a co-op for Black and multi-racial youth and teenagers founded by Ashley Herring, was the first prize winner of $5,000 joined by four other winners—Friday Night Hype, Kids Fete, Our Fire Collective, and Women of Cambridge Cards—each receiving $1,000. The five award recipients offer innovative solutions to big social needs, such as supporting Black and Brown youth, promoting social justice and cultural pride, offering mental health supports for youth and teachers, and elevating female leaders. Learn more about these outstanding projects below! 

blackyard

Started by veteran teacher and Cambridge resident Ashley Herring, blackyard is a co-op for Black and multi-racial families, youth, and teenagers that dismantles white supremacy within, and lifts up the brilliance of Black, Indigenous, and Brown people through homeschooling, arts, activities, conversations about racism and all the isms with youth and teenagers, and works alongside youth organizers. In Ashley’s back yard, Black youth feel accepted, inspired to create, empowered to lead, and thrive by being their authentic selves. “Sometimes a space to be heard is all our young people need,” said Ashley, “and I honestly believe that if this work can’t happen in Cambridge, with its monetary resources and people who are deeply committed to dismantling white supremacy within themselves, it can’t happen anywhere.”  

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Friday Night Hype

This is the brainchild of Will Adams, Debbie Bonilla, Jackie Murphy, and Kini Udovicki, educators from the Cambridge Street Upper School, who, with the immense support of their principal Manuel Fernandez, developed therapeutic and educational activities aimed to reduce the opportunity gap and fill their student’s need for role models and mentors to support and inspire them. And through their passion to better serve their diverse group of young scholars, an authentic community of youth, adult mentors, and educators – with wildly popular afterschool programming – was born. Whether socially distant summer programming or zoom conversations attracting 80 to 90 kids, young scholars leave asking: “When is the next Friday Night Hype?”

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Soca Fusion – Kids fete

Kids Fete is a new program founded by Cambridge native Ella Wechsler-Matthaei and fellow dance teacher Makeda Wallace to introduce kids aged 4 to 12 to Soca Fusion, a dance class inspired by the Caribbean dance Soca. Opportunities to pursue dance in Cambridge have dwindled with the closure of studios and the pandemic. Kids Fete gives young dancers access to exercise, and to create and express themselves through movement, sparking a feeling of liberation, freedom, and joy. Kids Fete plans to launch with hybrid virtual and small-group, in-person classes – free of charge for local children and families – in early 2021.

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Our Fire Collective

Co-founded by Naqibah Al-Kaleem of Boston and Jesse Leavitt of Cambridge, a recent Harvard graduate and program officer with the Phillips Brooks House Association, Our Fire Collective designs retreats and transformative programs in nature to support K-12 educators to do the work they’re called do in high-needs communities and avoid teacher burn out. The day-long retreats offer space and programming where teachers can recharge and connect through mindful activities, including hands on art activities, yoga and dance, mindful walks and cooking meals, while also building a tight-knit community and a positive path to feeling supported in the long-term.

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Women of Cambridge Cards

Women of Cambridge Cards is an accessible and fun project created by Harvard Graduate School of Design student Clara Amenyo, working with the Cambridge Historical Commission. The project responds to the underrepresentation of women in Cambridge’s built environment – for example, women are represented 93% less than men in the Cambridge streetscape. Through a deck of unique, illustrated playing cards, the project creatively honors 52 diverse and trailblazing women who have helped our city become the innovative, intellectual, and compassionate hub it is today.

2021 Award Winners!

For our third annual Imagined in Cambridge! Social Innovation Award, the Foundation nearly tripled its investment in grassroots solutions to big social problems with a $5,000 grant to each of five winners. Three winning ideas HEART Jr., The Triggered Project, and R.O.C.K (Remembering Our Cambridge Kids and Kin) tackle mental health, a top need in Cambridge; and the other two winners Cambridge Bike Give Back, and GenUnity empower people from all racial and socio-economic backgrounds through free bikes and civic leadership training that comes with a stipend.  Read more about these social innovators below! 

HEART Jr.

Child at playground

Kennedy Longfellow 5th grader Aviana Dupee saw many of her peers experiencing depression, bullying, and conflict. Kids her age, she believes, are suffering but are not always taken seriously by adults and/or don’t have access to mental health programs like ones offered for middle school and high school students. That’s why Aviana is launching HEART Jr., using a peer-to-peer model to create a safe space in her elementary school where kids can learn coping mechanisms, how to handle conflict, share emotions, have a fun time together, and feel better about themselves.  

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Cambridge Bike Give Back

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Cambridge-born Lonnell Wells wanted to do something good for their community, specifically The Port neighborhood. He started to collect old, unwanted bikes, repair them, and give them out for free to local kids and anyone who needed them, and added friends Marc Roberts, Jon Anjaria and other volunteers to the effort. Over the past year, they have given out 350+ free bikes and have set up a repair studio at CambridgeSide. Recently, one of their free bikes enabled a formerly incarcerated man returning to the community with the transportation he needed to find and keep a new job. 100% powered by volunteers, CBGB turns bikes into vehicles for change.

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 The Triggered Project Presents Watch, Talk, and Heal

Keith Mascoll is a dynamic Cambridge actor, producer, and mental health advocate who is founding this project to address something Black and Brown men and boys don’t talk about—abuse and mental health—and nurture healing through the use of art. Through interactive performances, he is getting a multigenerational community, but especially youth, to open up into discussion, channel their pain into creativity, and get access to the mental health supports they need.

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R.O.C.K. (Remembering Our Cambridge Kids and Kin)

R.O.C.K.’s creator, Cambridge mother Celia Wilcox, devastatingly lost her daughter Richelle Robinson to street violence in 2018. For a long time, Celia felt alone in her grief in Cambridge and had to seek support in Boston and beyond. Out of this experience, she started R.O.C.K. to build a Cambridge healing community for families and friends affected by community violence and suicide. She will be creating workshops that address topics from bullying, suicide, and domestic violence prevention to recognizing mental illness and holding healing circles and support groups.

GenUnity

To tackle local issues – from housing to health equity and racial justice, we need everyday people, who stand in solidarity with the community’s needs and use their power to push for justice. But, many people, especially from underrepresented communities, face structural barriers, like uncompensated time, poor civic education, or obscure decision-making processes, that limit them from exercising their power as community leaders. GenUnity’s 3-month, 2-3 hour/week community leadership programs support diverse adults to learn a ’civic practice’ – unpacking local issues and taking action to drive change. GenUnity’s model centers diversity and equity, including recruiting a diverse cohort and providing stipends to support members who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate. Founders Jerren Chang and Nimisha Ganesh are recent HKS and HBS graduates who live in Cambridge.

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