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

TomTod is a unique and quirky organization. We’re the first to admit it! Working with middle schoolers, we strive to make our DNA as fun, whimsical and energy-surged as the students we serve! Today, we answer your most puzzling TomTod questions, in Part 1 of a 2 part series.

Okay, Okay. Who’s Tom? Where’s Tod?

Great question! Curiosity peaks when an organization’s name could be classified as two first names. But, TomTod really stands for Tomorrow’s Ideas, Today! Society typically views middle school as an awkward transition time from childhood to adulthood. Middle schoolers are often projected to be leaders once they mature and age. We believe that middle schoolers are equipped to be leaders today and TomTod exists to release their potential.

What exactly does TomTod do?

We empower middle school students to launch absurd ideas that enhance the common good. We accomplish this mission through 4 different programs:

Idea X: 6-12 month long experiential mentorship adventure. We walk with middle school students through an ideation process, starting with an application & interview experience & continuing to team building, idea development & launch. Read more about our Idea X projects.

Canton Dreamoratory: A week-long summer camp for middle schoolers centered on the assets and challenges of a specific city center. Students develop ideas to make Canton a better place & then present their ideas to community leaders.

Grasp. Go. Grow.: An in-school program that walks students through the ideation process. In the 2014-2015 school year the program is at The Early College Academy & The College & Career Readiness Academy at Lehman. 

Artsplorations: Our newest program, students explore innovation through the arts. We hold Saturday morning workshops, taught by local experts. *Partial funding provided by ArtsinStark.

When did TomTod begin?

TomTod started in the hearts and minds of middle school students that Joel Daniel Harris hung out with in a decade of youth ministry. The very first TomTod project was the Shack-A-Thon, in the fall of 2011. In August of 2012, JDH left his job to pursue launching TomTod full-time. The three new projects were launched in the fall of 2012 and TomTod received our 501c3 certification in February of 2013. New things are starting up all the time in the land of TomTod, so in some ways we’re always beginning again.

Check back next Tuesday for Part 2, when we answer more puzzling questions!


[Barbara Ross’ daughter, Aurora, attended the Dreamoratory last summer. We asked Barbara a few questions about Aurora’s experience and why the week is important for middle schoolers].

TomTod: Why did you want Aurora to participate in the Dreamoratory?

Barbara: I felt that it was important to add a counterpoint to her perspective, which at the “middle school” stage of development can be very “Me”-centric, with information and experiences embracing the larger world in which that “me” operates.

TT: What were Aurora’s biggest learnings from the week?

Barbara: That there is much more in time and space than what can be gained from split second glances.

TT: How was Aurora challenged by the Dreamoratory?

Barbara: I think she benefited from the experience of being enveloped into a work group of people, topics and goals that are unfamiliar but immediate.

TT: What would you tell a parent who has a student interested in the Dreamoratory?

Barbara: I would say that they should not expect “camp” in the sense of a traditional cabin by the lake scenario. Their youth will gain a more urban vibe and the experience will be more of a “scamper” going through a new land that that of a “camper” on a predictive trail.

TT: Why is the Dreamoratory worthwhile for middle schoolers?

Barbara: I think it models team building and problem solving systems while fostering a sense of adventure and an expectation of the wonder of things unexpected.

This year’s Canton Dreamoratory is July 12-18, open to students leaving grades 5-8. Register today at


Aurora (right) shares her idea with community leaders at the Community Ideation Panel.


[Post written by TomTod’s Chief Ideation Officer, Abby Shaub].

Failure is exhausting. When an idea goes awry, it is easy to feel defeated and completely abandon the process. Although, it is through failures that impactful ideas can emerge.

Did you know that Thomas Edison failed thousands of times before perfecting the light bulb? Steve Jobs’ Apple I & II computers barely lifted off the ground but now he is remembered as one of the greatest tech geniuses of all time.

I recently read a quote from TED that captured this concept perfectly: “We have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.” (Angela Lee Duckworth)

All ideators and imagineers have ideas that don’t work out. Instead of fixating on the failures, we must first admit that the idea was a flop. The pivotal moment occurs when we begin again with fresh eyes because of what we’ve learned.

Challenges can in fact provide great inspiration, as through evaluation new ideas emerge from the rubble.

At TomTod, we believe in gutsy stick-to-itiveness. Throughout the ideation process, ideas may be unfeasible. Rather than being paralyzed by failure, we encourage our students to view failure as an opportunity to launch something new that is wildly successful.

Middle schoolers are overflowing with dreams and by moving forward in spite of challenges, ideas emerge that truly enhance the common good.

Failure quote

07 Apr / 2015


[Guest blogger Josh Harris has been a fan of TomTod since its beginning in 2012. An entrepreneur with over 15+ years of business experience, Josh has navigated three businesses in the marketing and tech sectors from start-up to acquisition. Josh recently joined the Stark County District Library as Interim Marketing Director, helping the institution tell its story to the community. When away from a computer Josh, his wife Kate, and their daughter Maddie enjoy biking and other outdoor activities.]

I take a lot of things for granted without realizing it. And while sometimes those assumptions are seemingly harmless, they subtly color my perception of the world and unwittingly influence the way I navigate through it.

Take, for example, the common orange: staple of soccer team snacks, unofficial juice of American breakfasts, and seeming cornerstone of the citrus family.  Heck, it’s even where we got the name for the color. So oranges must be one of those fundamental foods that have always been around, right?

Except that the orange doesn’t exist in the wild. They’re a human-cultivated hybrid of two true citrus ancestors. In fact, the entire citrus section of your local grocery store is a messy family tree of hybridization, cultivation, and cross-breeding going on for centuries. As common as oranges are today, they aren’t some fundamentally immutable member of the food pantheon. They only exist because an enterprising farmer in ancient China one day thought to himself, “I wonder if?”

So while assuming that the omnipresent oranges have always been so is a harmless – if tasty – error, contemplate a world in which Paddington Bear doesn’t have orange marmalade, and the crayon between red and yellow in the box is called “carrot.” It’s like apples and… oranges.

Which gets me to wondering… how much of what we assume “just is” or “always has been” or “can’t be changed” isn’t actually a forgone conclusion? And once you discover that most of what surrounds you isn’t inevitable, you start to realize that the world as you know it is much more open to your influence than you thought. In fact, if you squint your eyes and look past what is, you may just catch glimpse of the world as it could be – if you choose to ask “I wonder if?”

Oh, as for those citrus progenitors… ever heard of a citron, mandarin, pomelo, or papeda? They’re the only original citruses and the source from which all of the lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges that we take for granted derive. Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be well known or in the headlines to make a difference. But that’s another bad assumption for another day.

Photo from


[Lucy Burick, an 8th grader at North Canton Middle School, participated in the Canton Dreamoratory last summer. We asked Lucy a few questions about her experience. We are thrilled that she is joining us again this summer! Read Part 1 of her story here.]

TomTod: Explain your group’s final idea/presentation.

Lucy: My group’s final idea/presentation was to create a community garden. There would be herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. I do not remeber if we pin-pointed a desirable location, but I do remember taking a trip to a church and looking at a very grassy area.

TT: How did receiving feedback from community members at the Community Ideation Celebration help you?

Lucy: Receiving feedback helped me understand how we could accomplish our idea and what things we would need to think over more clearly.

TT: Describe a field trip you took during the week and what you learned.

Lucy: A field trip I took during the week was going to Goodwill. I learned that there were many organizations in the Goodwill. I do not remember the name of this organization, but people could come into the building and get free food. Also, people could come in and talk someone if they needed to.

TT: If you could describe the week in one word what would it be?

Lucy: If I could describe the week in one word it would be extraordinary.

If you know a middle schooler in Stark County, encourage them to register for the Canton Dreamoratory, July 12-18, 2015!

Lucy (Left) and Alejandra went out in the community to research community gardens.


[Lucy Burick, an 8th grader at North Canton Middle School, participated in the Canton Dreamoratory last summer. We asked Lucy a few questions about her experience. We are thrilled that she is joining us again this summer!]

TomTod: The Dreamoratory is awesome because…

Lucy: The Dreamoratory is awesome because you can learn so many new and interesting things. Another reason it is awesome is because there is no limit to where you can use your imagination. The Dreamoratory also lets you explore the world around you.

TT: What did you learn about Canton throughout the week?

Lucy: There was a lot that I learned about Canton throughout the week. First, is that on Cherry Ave there used to be an abundance of shops, it was a very small community. I also learned about what the Lighthouse organization and how they help kids over the summer and after school. Plus, I learned that there are community gardens in Canton!

TT: What was your highlight from the week?

Lucy: My highlight from the week was going to the Onesto Hotel. It was amazing to see what Steve Coon had done. The architecture inside the hotel was phenomenal. Though going into the elevators was a little scary, it made the trip up to the top floor worth it. There was a beautiful view of Canton.

Read Part 2 of Lucy’s Story on this blog next Tuesday! 


Dreaming up new ideas! (Lucy on right).

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