At the end of the year, we reflect on how we create impact and empower middle schoolers. Here’s just one story of the amazing students we work with.

You can also donate here to help us finish the year strong!

When middle schooler Rowyn saw a 360° virtual reality video at Camp What If, his heart broke. He saw kids his own age without homes, with nowhere to go. “I was surprised, and felt bad for these people,” he said.


Rowyn had just watched the true story of 11-year-old Oleg, a refugee from Ukraine, who fled his home to avoid violence and war. “Kids were standing in a school classroom full of bomb shells … they’ve gone through a lot,” he said. At Camp What If, Rowyn discovered stories of refugees now living in Akron, Ohio, too—just miles from his own home. “I want to help make their lives easier.”

How’s Rowyn doing it? With What If You Could – the project launching program at TomTod Ideas. He formed a team with friends and we connected him with adult mentors, and together, they’re tackling the international refugee crisis – one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century – with an app.

Rowyn’s calling it Refugee Connect. Just like when we move to a new neighborhood and acclimate to our new home, this app helps refugees make a new home in an unfamiliar land. “We’re connecting refugees to resources,” he said. “I want to help them adjust to the US.”

The app will show new refugees how to get settled in their new areas and where to go if they need help. “If I can help them, then I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something,” Rowyn says with a smile.

TomTod Ideas has a heart for middle schoolers because of kids like Rowyn, who see the needs of hurting people like Oleg and immediately want to help. We connect middle schoolers with mentors and tools to do just that – but we can’t do it alone.

Would you join us in aiding middle schoolers like Rowyn solve humanitarian problems, engage their communities, and take action in the world? By giving today, you’ll be supporting programming like What If You Could that empowers middle schoolers to help those who need it most.

Rowyn isn’t the only middle schooler who’s making a difference. You can hear the inspiring stories of students like Lucy, Nyrii, and Manny (and more!) involved in our other programs, What If 101 and Camp What If, on our Stories page.

Here’s how you can help today:

  • $25 covers the supplies a student like Nyrii needs in a What If 101 cohort for a year
  • $50 covers meals for a camper at Camp What If for one week
  • $200 is seed funding that allows teams like Rowyn’s to launch their projects, giving aid to people and enhancing the common good
  • $350 covers the cost of one scholarship so a middle schooler like Lucy can attend Camp What If

Your gift goes far beyond middle school. When you give today, you connect middle schoolers like Rowyn, Nyrii, Lucy, Manny, and many others to programs that build their strengths, to mentorships where they creatively solve problems, and to resources that build competent, caring lives.

Please consider giving a gift today at

Thank you for your support!

It’s TomTod Ideas’ 5th birthday! We’ve been empowering middle school students to launch absurd ideas that enhance the common good for five years now, and it’s been a momentous half decade. We’re celebrating with a 5 for 5: Five things we love about middle schoolers.

1. Critical Thinking

It can be difficult – if not downright impossible – to fully sum up the middle school brain. But that’s one of the reasons we love middle schoolers: Their inquisitiveness, intrepid curiosity, and desire to know more (even if at first they act like they don’t care) is something that drives their middle school gray matter. It’s incredible to watch as they seek to know as much as they can before they evaluate problems and ideas, and then make decisions.

2. Creative Innovation

Let’s face it, middle schoolers can be weird. And we love that. Because we’re weird too.

Middle schoolers are at a stage where everything from their bodies and brains to their emotions and thoughts are all tangled up and learning how to grow. The amalgamation of all this confusion, possibility, and diversity (within themselves and what they see in others) is probably the source of all their good ideas. Who would have ever thought to dream up a free bikeshare program that was served out through the public library system? Who would have thought to develop an app where refugees can find resources, information, and become more acclimated to their new homes? (Look out for more info on that, later.) It’s these instances of innovation that we at TomTod Ideas feel a personal obligation to amplify. Too often all those “crazy ideas” an 11-year-old has are ignored by adults. Not here. Not by us.

3. Collaboration

Teamwork. Group work. Asking for help. Checking the facts. Using shared resources.

These are lot of things people struggle with, adults and middle schoolers alike. But we’ve found at Camp What If that when you take a diverse group of middle school students and challenge them, and also actually listen to them, a smorgasbord of collaborative possibility. We had a camper this past summer who absolutely did not want to climb through the spider web rope course at Camp What If: Wilds. Instead of demanding that she do it, our camp counselor asked why (she was afraid of falling to the ground). Then we asked if there was a way to help her overcome that fear. She wasn’t sure at first, but a friend suggested all her fellow campers help boost her legs and arms to get through. With a small amount of trepidation she agreed, and then she did it. She overcame her personal fear, worked with others, and felt more empowered to collaborate in groups for the rest of the week at camp because she had that initial challenging and impactful experience.

4. Caring

Middle schoolers are some of the most caring people we’ve ever met. They have a deep, intrinsic optimism that shines through – especially when you ask middle schoolers what their passions are. Just take a gander at Manny’s or Nyrii’s stories, you’ll see why they care so much.

At Camp What If: Masters and Wilds this summer, we focused on the international refugee crisis and how we could respond to it (and in what way.) Dan, one of our camp counselors, shared some telling evidence when we asked him about what he saw in his middle schoolers at camp:

“By the end of the week it seemed most campers had figured out how the refugee crisis related to and affected them, as well as what they could do to help.”

In one week they figured out how to respond, help, and why it’s necessary in the first place. Bingo.

5. Confidence

Sure, confidence is key…but to what, exactly? Why do we instill this in our students and cherish it? Because no one ever said middle school was easy. It’s very much the opposite. But that’s why TomTod Ideas exists. Confidence, once planted, grows and grows to combat the daily insecurities and anxieties middle schoolers face. All those times an adult said “no” to a good idea, all those times someone disregarded a middle schooler’s valid, personal opinion, or question seeking to know more, or when an adult simply can’t be bothered to deal with a middle schooler right now and tosses them a digital device to occupy their time…that’s what confidence combats. That’s the key to a positive, well-developed, supported, and empowered middle schooler: instilling in them the confidence to know they matter, their ideas matter, and they have the ability to put their dreams into motion. And when you see that happen, when you see a middle schooler realize someone is listening to them and recognizes their ideas are real and valid, that makes all the difference. It’s why we do what we do.

And there’s just five out of the many reasons we love middle schoolers. What are your five? Post on social media why you love middle schoolers with the hashtag #TomTodturns5.

It’s a big year for us as we reach the Big 5. You can help us reach another 5 more years by giving a gift so we can empower more middle schoolers, reach more schools, and enhance more communities. Thank you!


2016 Annual Report

In 2016, we grew. A lot. Our middle schoolers grew in collaboration, contribution, and character. We grew in programming, student numbers, staff, and overall intrepid creativity.

Take a gander at the impact we made in 2016!

View our report on Issuu.

TomTod Ideas was an early adopter of Giving Tuesday when it first began a few years ago. We loved using the power of social media to generate collaboration and generosity.

But this year, we did something different. We didn’t ask people for money – we gave back to them.

You can check out our swanky hashtag #TomTodGivesBack on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see our full day of giving back on Giving Tuesday.

How did it all go down?

Under the ruse of fake meetings and business shenanigans, we surprised some of our corporate sponsors in person, thanking them for their support and giving them some of the coolest stuff money can’t buy: donated local food, cards, and TomTod merch. We shared our story of surprises live on social media at every stop – and we loved every minute of it!

Here are the people who believe in TomTod Ideas (and probably won’t trust scheduling another business meeting with us ever again).

Deli Ohio

TomTod Ideas at Deli Ohio

Hall, Kistler, and Company

TomTod Ideas at Hall, Kistler, & Co.

Four Kids Coffee

TomTod Ideas at Four Kids Coffee

DeHoff Realtors

TomTod Ideas at DeHoff Realtors

Ramsburg Insurance and Financial Services

TomTod Ideas at Ramsburg Insurance

Hartville Health and Wellness

TomTod Ideas at Hartville Health and Wellness

Coffee and Code

TomTod Ideas at Coffee and Code

Lucy Burick

TomTod Ideas surprising Lucy Burick

Lucy is a TomTod alum and serves as Student Representative on our Board of Directors. We surprised her at school for her birthday, thanking her for her service on the board and being an ambassador for TomTod!

We’re kind of a small crew at TomTod, so we didn’t make it to every one of our corporate sponsors on Giving Tuesday. But even if we didn’t come a knockin’ on their doors, we are so grateful for the generosity of the following organizations:

ASAP! Promotional Product Idea Leaders
Bixler & Moore, LLC
Play It Again Sports
Rotary Club of Plain Township
Yoder-Bontrager Insurance and Financial Services
Aultman College
Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon
Tim Morris, DDS
RiverTree Christian Church
Incept Gives

Embedded in TomTod Ideas’ DNA is embracing our community and collaborating with those around us. We are tremendously grateful that these folks believe in our mission and gave to help it continue. You can be a part of that, too. TomTod Ideas wouldn’t exist without the partnership, support, and donations of these generous people and others, so as a final sign-off on Giving Tuesday, thank you.

We’re so excited to bring Landfill Harmonic to the big screen at the Canton Palace Theatre…and it’s free for schools!

The film is playing November 17 at 10am, doors open at 9:00, so mark your calendars! Reservations are required for schools. Reserve free admission below or call 330-454-8172.

We’re partnering with the Canton Symphony Orchestra to bring this film to the big screen. Here’s what your school should know about this testament to the power of education, youth, and music.

The world sends them trash. They send back music:

Landfill Harmonic follows the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, a Paraguayan musical group that plays instruments made entirely out of garbage. When their story goes viral, the orchestra is catapulted into the global spotlight. Under the guidance of idealistic music director Favio Chavez, the orchestra must navigate a strange new world of arenas and sold-out concerts. However, when a natural disaster strikes their community, Favio must find a way to keep the orchestra intact and provide a source of hope for their town. The film is a testimony to the transformative power of music, the resilience of the human spirit, and the importance of educating and empowering youth and communities.

Landfill Harmonic will leave your heart full and your ears wanting more. Ready to be inspired?

We’re so excited to bring Landfill Harmonic to the big screen at the Canton Palace Theatre.

The film is playing November 17 at 7pm, tickets are $5 and doors open at 6:30, so mark your calendars!

Get Tickets

We’re partnering with the Canton Symphony Orchestra to bring this film to the big screen. Here are 7 things you should know about this testament to the power of education, youth, and music.

First of all, the trailer. The world sends them trash. They send back music:

The film opens in Cateura, Paraguay, a town that sits on a gigantic landfill. Most of the residents in Cateura make their living by sorting through the trash and selling things they find.

Environmental engineer Favio Chávez came to Cateura to assist in a recycling program for the landfill, but when that failed, he found something much more musical: the creative passion of young people. He and his friend Nicolás began fashioning instruments out of salvaged garbage items.

Chávez wanted the children in the town to have a safe place to play–someplace other than a trash heap. He becomes the director of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, and begins teaching local kids how to play instruments. Violin made out of trash

Most of the instruments are made out of things found around the landfill, like tin cans, forks, and discarded X-ray film. But there’s another reason the instruments are made out of trash. “For many children, it was impossible to give them a violin to take home because they had nowhere to keep it and their parents were afraid they would be robbed, or the instrument would be sold to buy drugs,” said Chávez. The instruments–and the kids–are much safer since everything is recycled.

The filmmakers posted a short video about the Orchestra on social media–and their story explodes online. A Kickstarter to make the documentary was quickly funded, and soon the Orchestra, and the filmmakers, are touring the world in concert halls, stadiums, and arenas.

David Ellefson, bassist for the metal band Megadeth, becomes the Orchestra’s hero when he visits and gives them the chance to play with the band on tour.

The Recycled Orchestra playing on stage

“Landfill Harmonic” will leave your heart full and your ears wanting more.

Ready to be inspired? Get your tickets now!

Are you an educator? Want your students to watch Landfill Harmonic for free? Get the details here!

Recycled Violins

In part two of Bryce’s introductory blog series, we ask and he answers: why TomTod, why middle schoolers, and what’s the big deal about ideation?

Tell us, why TomTod Ideas? And why middle schoolers?
TomTod Ideas fascinates me. I work here and I’m still fascinated. It’s an organization that is working to create a culture of creativity and ideation that produces change. And more than just being a think tank or design hub, TomTod Ideas leverages some of the most powerful untapped potential the world has: middle schoolers. Young people. They’re kids, they’re teens, they’re changing the world and the world hardly gives them credit. We work to give them credit where it’s due.

All of our students’ stories are proof that middle schoolers can change the world, just take a gander and you’ll see. But it’s not just TomTod Ideas students that are doing this. We have middle school and teenage heroes around the globe.

A group of middle schoolers are racing a human-powered kinetic sculpture—and they’ve built it themselves. Malala Yousafzai challenges the world to make education a first-rate priority for women and girls. She was attacked by Taliban when she was 15 years old because of it. At age 12, Zach Hunter learned that human slaves exist in the world—right now, today—and was determined to help end modern day slavery.

So middle schoolers might be hyper, rambunctious, and maybe a little dramatic sometimes (aren’t we all?), but they have the potential, the drive, and above all, the imagination to dream up wonderful crazy things that make the world a better place in which to live.

So what’s the big deal about ideation?
I’m glad you didn’t use the word why in this question.

Why’s that?
Well, the two go hand in hand—ideation and not asking why. One of the things I’ve seen happen in almost any creative setting is that asking “why?” too much can be detrimental—to creativity, to ideation, and ultimately, to people.

The best work to come out of a creative setting usually begins with an idea that is constructed audaciously, without hindrance and without immediately being told “no, you can’t do that” or “no, that would never work.” The reason traditional brainstorming is so ineffective is because people are afraid to express creative, crazy, wild ideas to the large group since they will be immediately shot down—or they’re afraid they will be.

That’s why when we begin an ideation session at TomTod Ideas, we always start with an “anything goes” process. Have an idea? Write it on a sticky note and toss it up on the wall. Everybody gets sticky notes, everybody has ideas, nobody gets shot down. We don’t ask why? We don’t even ask why not?

Instead, we ask what if? Asking what if? opens the door to imagination, ideation, and creative problem solving more effectively than questions that can hinder or even halt the process—questions like why?

This ideation process of course needs mediation in some way. You can’t throw hundreds of ideas up on the wall and expect to try, implement, or test every single one. That’s why we have stages in our ideation sessions. In the initial stages we expect everyone to stretch their imaginations to the craziest and wildest possibility, and in later stages we challenge everyone to think on a much smaller scale, asking, “What if you only had $100 to implement this idea? What if you had zero dollars?” “What if you only had the resources available in your neighborhood? What if the only stuff you had available was in your house?”

It’s a great process that challenges everyone to think on both sides of the spectrum: limitless and limited. Great ideas usually come somewhere in between. And when you challenge students to think and ideate on both sides of that spectrum, they learn to think and ideate holistically, and they begin to answer questions and solve problems in new and more creative ways than they ever had before.

What If You Could is one way we ask “what if?” Middle schoolers can apply right now with a big idea to change the world at What If You Could.

Lightbulb radiating

IMG_3405cMeet TomTod Ideas’ newest addition to the team, Lead Storyteller Bryce Schmidt.
In part one of this blog post, we get to know Bryce as he discusses his interests, pop culture, and what “Lead Storyteller” means.
So, with a job title of Lead Storyteller, what do you do?

Tell stories of course! But it’s more than that. Driving forces for TomTod Ideas include creativity, inspiration, and celebration. We have so many stories to share of our amazing middle schoolers, the ideas they create, and the feats they accomplish. My job is share those stories, on social media, on our website, to the press, in print, and elsewhere. I direct communications and media, where I write and do graphic design, and I collaborate with partners for other events and marketing and administrative tasks.

What’s a perfect day in the life of Bryce?

A perfect day would start with getting the coffee or tea just right. I’ve been delving into trying more teas lately, and I’m definitely not an expert. I’m trying to hone my skills in getting honey and steeping times right.

A perfect day would include feeling inspired to write and then actually writing. I’ve always loved telling stories (job title is accurate), and when I get in the zone I can crank out a lot of good stuff. It takes some work to get to that point though, but when I get immersed in flow, it feels great to be productive. I like writing nonfiction, where I can tell stories from my own life and reflect and remember as I go. It’s a great avenue for humor, where I focus a lot of my energy in writing (I’ll let you know when I win the Pulitzer).

If we’re talking about the Perfectest of All Perfect Days, I think I would backtrack to my summer 2015 trip to Paris and Taizé, France. The country is beautiful, the sites are breathtaking, the monastery is peaceful, and the food is beyond words. I had the wonderful opportunity to travel there with Malone University on a service learning trip, and I would go back in a heartbeat. My perfect day would close out by relaxing with friends, reading, and/or watching an intriguing movie. Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, and has been a driving force in my hobbies, studies, and passions. I love film and consider myself a quasi-movie buff, and I love to find interesting films that delve into interesting characters’ lives.

Some of Bryce’s Favorite Movies:
  • Stranger Than Fiction
  • Take Shelter
  • Inception
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Kings of Summer (I’d call it my generation’s Stand By Me, plus, it was filmed in Ohio!)
Some of Bryce’s Favorite Books:
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • All the Way Home by David Giffels (people give Northeast Ohio a bad rap, but this is my mantra for why I love it here)
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  • The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
In Part Two, learn more about Bryce’s fit at TomTod Ideas, middle school, and why asking “why?” can be detrimental.

[In Part 2 of the series, “Who’s Tom? Where’s Tod?” we answer more of the questions we are asked on a regular basis! Read on to learn more about TomTod and our students. If you missed it, be sure to catch up on Part 1!]

Where do your students come from?

Anywhere! We work with public schools and youth groups, students from all over Stark County, and travel to consult with groups anywhere in the world. We have currently worked with students from 6 different school districts in Stark County as well as private schools and homeschooled students. We have even traveled as far as North Carolina to help a group of students concoct ideas on a Dream Weekend.

How are you funded?

Through generous people like yourself! We receive funding from private donors, businesses and churches. We are also currently pursuing a variety of grants.

Do schools pay for your in-school programs?

Schools do not pay for TomTod programs. TomTod is unique because we offer programs that support teachers’ existing curriculum at no cost to the schools. We enjoy providing this supplemental resource to schools and plan to expand our reach to other districts in the area.

Where is TomTod located?

TomTod Ideas keeps regular office hours at The Stark County District Library in downtown Canton (715 Market Ave. N, Canton, OH 44702). Give us a call if you plan on stopping by, as we’re often out and about, meeting with students, partners, and sharing dreams with the world.

How can I help?

TomTod wouldn’t exist with out our awesome support team! If you are a middle school student, get involved by registering for a Dreamoratory. If you are an adult looking to volunteer, check out our volunteer page. We are always looking for energetic and invested adults to help with our programs. Contact with any further questions. We hope to partner with you soon!

GGG 2014

Joe Rozsa receives prestigious award for Idea X logo created for TomTod Ideas

Canton, OH – June 1, 2015Joe Rozsa, Owner/Creative Director of Trailer Trash Design, received the Platinum Hermes Award for the Idea X logo he created for TomTod Ideas.

Rozsa designed the Idea X logo in the fall of 2014. Idea X is a 6-18 month long experiential mentorship adventure for middle school students. The doodle in the logo captured the creative and humble beginning of an idea.

Hermes Creative Awards identifies exceptional work in the creative industry. Over 6,000 entries were received from around the United States, Canada and several other countries.

The awards were organized and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP). AMCP supports creative professionals who dedicate their expertise to charitable organizations.Winners were chosen from 195 categories and about 15% of the entries won the most coveted honor, the Platinum Award.

“We are extremely proud of Joe for receiving this prestigious award. His ingenuity and creative mastery crafted a dynamic logo for Idea X and reignited an innovative spark in the ideation-based program,” said Abby Shaub, Chief Ideation Officer of TomTod Ideas.

Rozsa has received two gold Hermes Creative Awards in addition to the platinum for Idea X. He plans to enter the Idea X logo in the Sister Competition, The Marcom Awards, next year.

Rozsa started Trailer Trash Design over eight years ago in Green, Ohio. According to it’s website, “Trailer Trash Design is a small, creative, and innovative design studio that’s geared for quick response and effective graphic communications of all types.”

TomTod Ideas is a non-profit organization that empowers middle school students to launch absurd ideas that enhance the common good. They release the potential of tomorrow, today. Visit for more information.


Idea X sliderPlatinum Statuette

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