[Post written by Hillary Gerig, TomTod Board Treasurer. Hillary is an Accountant IV at First Energy and adds spunk and financial insight to TomTod.]

I admit it. I am an emotional woman. And by emotional I mean, I cry a lot. I really hate falling into that stereotype, but the more I rebel against it, the more true it seems to become. I find my eyes welling up at commercials, reality shows, and even during the montage of “One Moment in Time” at the end of the NCAA basketball championships! That just can’t be normal, can it? Sometimes I feel like I have this reaction to anything I see that is kind or generous or loving because there is so much of the opposite in the world that it really affects me when I see acts of kindness and compassion.  Or, even just general happiness and celebration for someone who has trialed through so much. I volunteer in the café at my church and a few weeks ago I was ringing up the order of a family who appeared to be new to the church. One of the family members was a young man who was wearing his ROTC fatigues. As they were getting ready to pay, the man behind them in line stepped in and offered to pay for their entire order as a way of saying “thank you” for their son’s decision to serve.  The mother was clearly shocked, yet grateful. Tears welled up in the back of my eyes immediately and I had a really hard time completing the sale without letting them all come flooding out. I was moved by his kindness because, let’s be honest, overt kindness like that is few and far between these days.  We’re constantly surrounded by hustle and bustle and self-centeredness, and kindness and compassion gets lost.

But then there is TomTod Ideas. One of TomTod’s core values is Compassion and Justice – we seek to enter into a broken world, equipped with love and selflessness, to create hope and repair. Boom. It hits me so hard every time I read it and it’s what I love most about being a part of the TomTod team.  What’s more is that TomTod is trying to bring these values into the forefront of the minds of middle school students.  That is no easy task! At the risk of sounding cliché, these students are our future! What WE sow into them now, WE will reap later.  This past summer I attended the community celebration for the Canton Dreamoratory and got to hear about the projects that the teams of middle school students created in just one week.  I was blown away by the creativity and the others-centered focus of each of the projects.  Several of the projects were aimed at repairing a broken world and helping those who are not equipped to help themselves. Needless to say, I was brought to tears! (shocking, I know) When I was that age, I was more interested in re-runs of “Charles in Charge” than I was with developing an idea that would positively impact a community.  Scott Baio may have had the good looks and charm, but he was never going to inspire me to change the world.  It was at the end of those presentations that I really understand what TomTod was about and why I was a part of it. I’m hopeful that someday kindness and compassion will run so rampant that I won’t even feel the slightest sting of oncoming tears when I see it lived out in front of me.  I owe a piece of this renewed hope to TomTod and I look forward to what is to come.


Photo from

17 Feb / 2015

Get on the roof!

[Blog post written by TomTod fan, Jean Paddock. Jean recently participated as a panelist at an Idea X Community Ideation Panel. Jean is currently employed by Aultman College as its Vice President of Academic Affairs.  She additionally teaches chemistry and science both at Aultman and in the community.  She and her husband Thomas reside in Bolivar, Ohio where they can be found with their puppy, Linus, when they’re not out adventuring!]

When I was in middle school, I was charged with dropping an egg out of a 2 or 3 story window and having it survive the fall as an intact egg.  That was the assignment.  No rules. No limits. Just figure it out.  I don’t remember working out ideas or drawing up a plan.  I remember being at home with an egg in some kind of cushioned container and attaching it to a parachute made out of a disposable plastic shopping bag.  I remember knowing that I needed to drop it from a high distance to practice and not being sure how to do that.  I remember my dad saying “Well, let’s get on the roof!”.  No hesitation – just get on the roof.   (And we did!  It was awesome!  Dad kept me safe, and that’s how I practiced my egg drop ideas.)

How many of us do that for curious kids?  Do we tell them to get on the roof and facilitate their exploration OR do we make them pause?  Do we tell them to rethink the beginning idea?  How many of us encourage curious adults?  How many of us challenge the norm in projects at work?  Do we embrace new ideas or do we inadvertently squash a new approach or trial?  Are we too afraid, bound by process,  legal fears, regulations, and requirements?  Or, do we just try it, make it work, and see what happens?

Today, I think we’ve become rule-bound and regulation-driven.  It’s an easier approach to regulate and legislate to minimum standards that protect what we worry about.  (There are some rules and regulations that are valid and necessary, but I think the pendulum has swung too far.)  I believe that holding on so tightly to the minimum is partly responsible for leading us, as a nation, to lagging outcomes (economically, educationally, etc.). I would argue that dependence on rules and regulation doesn’t propel us toward long-term success.  Long-term success is harder and more nebulous.  It arises from creativity, encouraging and empowering new ideas, channeling them (in an ever increasing world of connectivity) to trial, and challenging the status quo for the greater good.   Sometimes we see success and sometimes we see failure – both are equally valuable!

So what can I do?  What can you do?  I don’t know if the egg broke or not, but that’s not the point of the story.  The point is that my dad encouraged and empowered me without hesitation.  How am I an agent of encouragement and empowerment?   How do I personally or through my interaction with others encourage ideation,  empower a thoughtful idea,  channel ideas and dreamers toward each other, and most importantly, help myself and others find a way?  Let’s do it!  See what happens!  Learn and grow!  Seek long-term success!  Get on the roof!


Jean and her father.


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


The sheer utterance of the word can make us shudder. When “constructive” is attached to the front it softens the hit. Ultimately though, standing vulnerable before others is an intimidating task. 

The easy solution to the intimidation is to shut others out and not ask for their feedback on our ideas, projects or work. But, cowering away is a sad existence. In order to grow, we need to live with our ears open to the insight of others. 

Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a poignant blog post on this topic. He explained 3 different ways we can react to feedback. We can see it as an attack, pass it off to someone else or show gusto and choose the third option:

“One other option: you can care even more than I do. You can not only be open to the constructive feedback, but you can savor it, chew it over, amplify it. You can delight in the fact that someone cares enough to speak up, and dance with their insight and contribution.”

At TomTod, we believe in constructive feedback. A few weeks ago we held Community Ideation Panels for our Idea X students. During two separate panels, Kyle & Isaiah presented their idea to a group of professionals within their idea’s topic. After the presentation and Q&A, panelists wrote down what is awesome about the idea and potential obstacles.

Following the panels, the students met with their lead mentors to go over the feedback. They received it very well, as they listened and used the insight to enhance their ideas. Instead of being defensive, the students accepted the constructive criticism as an opportunity to create better developed and others’ focused ideas.

It’s time to view feedback as a catalyst to improve our ideas and build character. People give their insight because they value our success. Embracing it shows we value them too.


One of our core volunteers, Bryce Schmidt, laid some great groundwork a couple weeks back on why we love improv theater. As a follow up, take a glance at this intriguing article from KQED’s Mind Shift blog, providing another great perspective on the value of improv theatre in education:

“Improv enthusiasts rave about its educational value. Not only does it hone communication and public speaking skills, it also stimulates fast thinking and engagement with ideas. On a deeper level, improv chips away at mental barriers that block creative thinking — that internal editor who crosses out every word before it appears on a page — and rewards spontaneous, intuitive responses, Criess says. Because improv depends on the group providing categorical support for every answer, participants also grow in confidence and feel more connected to others.”

These concepts are exactly why we’re launching our latest initiative: Artsplorations! An Artsploration explores the world of creative problem solving, critical thinking skills, brainstorming and ideation through the lens of a practiced art. We have recruited some of the most talented practitioners in the region to lead middle schoolers through three-hour, interactive adventures that put theory into motion and stamp it into memory. We have four in our initial pilot: improv theater with Tim Carmany, visual arts with Amy Eibel, dance/movement with Kimberly Payne and storytelling with Andrew Rudd. (We have pre-registration available on our website, as all of these are spots-limited opportunities.)

The activities explored through these workshops aren’t just about making up ideas willy-nilly, though. They’re about equipping students with tools that lead to innovation and invention, as referenced by KQED:

“But does “yes, and” diminish one’s ability to think critically? Are there limits to all the right answers? “Improv says yes to the idea of ideas,” Criess says. Not every original thought will turn into the next invention, but offshoots of that first idea may lead to better ones, she explains. “Let’s agree to have ideas,” she says. “And set up a culture where risks are encouraged, and greeted positively and with respect.””

That’s the kind of culture we love to see in play at TomTod! Looking forward to a great year of exploring the arts and new ideas!

For more information or to pre-register for an upcoming Artsploration, go here!

(Artsplorations are funded in part from a grant by Arts in Stark.)


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

I hate groups.

Or at least I used to. If you know me, my past disdain of working with others was odd. After all, I was a Communication major in college. It should be natural for me to encourage discussion and cooperate with anyone, right?

The truth is I disliked working in groups because I couldn’t control everything. It seemed like I was always matched with people who were social loafers, just trying to get by. Instead of accepting we had different work styles and valuing the perceived “social loafers,” I shrugged it off and tried to do everything myself.

As my college career progressed, my perspective changed. I was a resident assistant my junior year on a staff with unique personalities. Although we each had different work styles, I witnessed that in the midst of our differences, we meshed really well together. Aha! Healthy groups COULD exist! This new mindset trickled into my academic life, as I tried to value each group member.

This semester, I am auditing the class Initiative Games at my alma mater, Malone University. The class teaches group games and trust activities as a way to unify groups. Last week we discussed the Full Value Contract, a social agreement to value each person and the group as a whole. It is comprised of 3 commitments: (From the book Islands of Healing: A Guide to Adventure Based Counseling).

1.) “Agreement to work together as a group and to work toward individual and group goals”

2.) “Agreement to adhere to certain safety and group behavior guidelines.”

3.) “Agreement to give and receive feedback, both positive and negative, and to work toward changing behavior when it is appropriate.”

When the 3 commitments are upheld, group members are supported. The contract doesn’t prevent group conflict. Instead, when problems arise, group members handle them with integrity, remembering that each member has value. It also means that sometimes we have to call each other out. Giving and receiving feedback isn’t easy, but it allows growth to occur.

I now like groups. The feeling of accomplishing a goal with a handful of others is exhilarating. I am eager to take what I’ve learned from Initative Games and share it with our TomTod students. I want them to experience the joy of cooperating with their peers, whether in an initiative game or when presenting a group idea.

Along the way, I will have a heightened awareness for the students who are hesitant to fully commit to a group. Hey, I’ll tell them, I was there too. It’s a scary feeling to commit to others and let go of control. But believe me, it’s worth it.


Photo from


-Sally Fields, in her much-maligned Oscar acceptance speech, 1985

[Post written by Paula Guiler, TomTod core volunteer. Paula is the Librarian for Greentown Intermediate School and Orchard Hill Intermediate School (North Canton City Schools). She was the lead mentor for the Idea X project Duct4Downs and she is now the Lead Mentor for The Homeless Experience.]

I could lie.  I could lie right now and you would believe me.  I could answer the question, “Why do you like middle schoolers?”  with great and noble answers, like, “Because they’re so (fill in the blank) funny, vulnerable, honest, energetic, awkward, amazing, goofy, unloved,etc., etc, etc.  All those answers would be true, but they wouldn’t be the truth.  The truth is, I like middle schoolers because they like me.  

I have never gotten over my own middle school experiences.  Never.  I was tall.  And skinny.  And flat-chested.  And ugly.  I wore glasses.  And braces.  And I wasn’t allowed to wear bikini underwear or bell bottoms.  I still have scars on my hand from when a boy scratched me with his dirty fingernails.

People can tell you how much the world has changed since they were in middle school, and they would be right.  The world has changed.  Technology alone has made the way the world functions unrecognizable to some.  But emotions don’t change.  Feelings don’t change.  Middle schoolers don’t change.

So because I clearly remember how I felt when I lived through the name-calling, and the paralyzingly embarrassment, I keep those feelings at the surface when I play with middle schoolers.  I try to show them that I get them, and then I act like a fool so that they can laugh at me, and at themselves, just a little bit.

And it seems to work.  They let me in.  Or at least they tolerate me hanging around them.  And it heals my middle school wounds, and maybe salves theirs, too.


[Guest post written by core volunteer, Bryce Schmidt. Bryce is a junior at Malone University studying Creative Writing & Psychology. He is a key staff member during the Canton Dreamoratory, where he taught the improv Artsploration.]

One of the many pleasures I’ve had working for TomTod is teaching improvisation at the Canton Dreamoratory summer camps. Stemming from a background in theatre and performance, I love to challenge myself and others in perhaps the most simplistic iteration of theatre: telling stories. That’s what most of life is anyway, isn’t it? We tell and hear stories everywhere we go. Maybe you thought I was simply referring to books or campfire tales—yes, certainly, but stories are everywhere. Conversations, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, business meetings, resumes, artwork, lunch at the deli. Yes, even your lunch—food—is a story. There was a journey that ethylene-ripened tomato took to get from the Florida farm it was harvested from to the produce supplier’s inventory to your Bacon Turkey Bravo last Tuesday. And the sandwich crafter has a story to tell too; the irritated, not-so-subtle nuances of the way he slopped on that chipotle mayo may divulge some plot details.

Stories are all around us. We are all storytellers, whether we know we are or not. Stories take infinitely different forms. Improv is one of my favorites and I love teaching it. Through improv, people can take a small starting point, a smidgen of information such as a description of a scene or character, and craft a humongous story full of people, places, and things, often telling it humorously. Some of us tell stories better than others. We all know someone who is a master storyteller, don’t we? If you don’t—find one, or several. They will enrich your life.

For those of us who aren’t so skilled in telling stories—and this goes for any type of communication; writing, speaking, acting, presenting, problem solving, entertaining, conversing—there are some things I’ve learned that can help.

Creativity is a sought-after quality that many of us wish we had more of. It just so happens to be a valued principle of TomTod, too. So how do we become more creative? Can we become more creative? Or are we stuck with the stagnant amount of creative juice we were born with, swashing around up there inside our noggins?

We’re in luck. Creativity has become an increasingly studied aspect in various fields of developmental, social, and neuropsychology, as well as the fields of sociology, education, and others. And guess what? We can increase our creativity.

Cognitive neuroscientist Wilma Koutstaal, Ph.D. has researched the connections the human brain makes and how it adapts to new and problematic information. Studying the genesis, influential factors, development, predisposition to, and cultivation of creativity, Koutstaal has developed a cognitive framework called agility of the mind or agile thinking. Agile thinking is thought that moves keenly back and forth between abstract and specific modes of cognition. Think of it as the ability to adapt and mentally pivot between different ways of thinking, problems, and solutions, all while still continually affected by the processes of normal, daily life: action, motivation, emotion, and environmental cues.

Koutstaal writes, “We—and our minds, brains, environments—are much more improvisational than we recognize, and we should learn and develop habits of thinking and acting that enable us to best capitalize on this to optimize creativity and innovation.”

This is where improv comes in. Neuroplasticity is a fairly recent discovery in neuropsychology—that our brains are not finished growing, learning, and changing when we reach adulthood (like most other physiological processes). Our brains can be shaped and molded and we can increase our creativity at any stage of life. Just because in infancy and adolescence we are growing and adapting and learning much more quickly than any other period in our lifespans does not mean that we are not able to be more creative later in life—we can train our brains, just like an athlete, to be more creative and innovative. The more you exercise new and unexplored connections and neural pathways in your brain, the stronger, more intelligent, and more creative your brain will become.

Improv is a fun way to do this. Some of the best examples of master storytellers in improvisation are the folks in the classic TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? These guys can dream up a scene with a setting, characters, a problem, and solution so quickly and humorously that they practically seem like wizards. Which they probably are.

One of my favorite improv games to teach (and play) is Scenes From a Hat—borrowed from Whose Line. I’ll yell out a topic statement to students standing onstage, such as “First drafts of movie lines.” And one by one they’ll have to quickly think of a funny or clever example that they then speak and act out to the audience. Generally it takes people a couple attempts to warm up to the concept, but soon we get answers such as a squinty-eyed, deep voiced “Go ahead, make my cake” and we’re all laughing.

So just because you’re not an infant or adolescent with rapidly developing physiological processes, don’t think you can’t become more creative, because you can. Try stepping back from a problem at work and ask yourself how a middle schooler might tackle it. Force yourself to find a connection within a conversation and make a funny joke about it. Picture yourself as a character in a specific scene the next time you are presenting to a group. Soon the new neural pathways you make will develop and strengthen inside your brain, and you will find yourself mentally pivoting and using them more and more. The connections, the creative solutions, the stories you tell will become more innovative and more meaningful everyday. And who knows where those stories might take us?

Stories on the brain

Photo from


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

January is a month of reflection, new beginnings and resolutions. People join gyms, start diet plans and begin new hobbies. Resolutions can be a catalyst for change, as some transformations last well into the year.

I recently read an article in Fast Company about the importance of doodling to boost creativity. “Studies have shown that doodling can free up short- and long-term memory, improve content retention and increase attention span. It can also produce creative insight,” stated Jennifer Miller. This topic is unpacked even more in Sunni Brown’s book, The Doodle Revolution.

A lover of art, sometimes in school I found myself doodling. During the school day, art was discouraged outside of art class, as it could serve as a distraction. This article helped me see that doodling about spoken information during presentations or lectures can actually help boost memory and productivity. What exciting news for the doodlers and scribblers of the world!

At TomTod, we encourage students to embrace creativity. When students are in the dreaming phase, we give them space to develop unique solutions. Our Artsplorations during the Dreamoratory display this concept, as students study an art medium for an hour each day, diving into hip hop, dance, visual arts, improvisation and storytelling. Artsplorations help students form problem solving, brainstorming and critical thinking skills.

As January progresses, I hope you develop resolutions to boost your creativity that transform into habits, to see your world brimming with whimsy and possibility.


Photo from


[Written by TomTod’s Executive Dreamer, Joel Daniel Harris. Read his bio on our staff page.]

The new year at TomTod has found us in new office space at the Stark County District Library, which for me has meant an additional new year resolution of walking to work whenever possible. A mile and a half makes for a walk just long enough to learn something, so I decided to start listening to podcasts on my trekking commute, starting by catching up on the hit show Serial.

In the first episode, The Alibi, digested while crunching through the snow on the first wintery day of 2015, the host/narrator/journalist, Sarah Koenig, recounts how difficult it is for people to provide trustworthy alibis, due to the gratuitous routine-ness of life. When things aren’t extraordinary they don’t stick out. For example, if I keep walking to work, it won’t be long before I forget what the weather was like on that first day of podcast listening…it will run into the many others to come. Except, perhaps, for one reason: my brain, specifically my curiosity, was being stimulated the entire trip by the compelling storyline of Serial.

According to Curiosity: It Helps Us Learn, But Why (NPR Ed Blog, October 14, 2014), when our curiosity is sparked, not only are we more apt to learn and retain information about our particular topic of interest, we’re also more likely to retain additional, even unrelated information. The study cited in the article connected curiosity-driven trivia to randomized facial recognition and found a significant rise in recall. We, like the teacher in the opening story, experience this sort of curiosity-driven learning all the time with our middle school students. They are fountains of wonder, when properly prompted.

As we launch into a new year of TomTod programming, we look forward to cultivating a contextualized curiosity, one that meets middle school students in the midst of their worlds and transports them to the needs, passions, challenges and beauty of the world around them. But engaging the world with inquisitive minds is for more than middle schoolers…it’s for you, too! What are you going to do to stimulate your curiosity in the coming year and expand your horizons? New books? New commutes? New hobbies? We’d love to hear. In fact, if you leave a comment, either here on this post or on one of our social media channels, we’ll enter you into a drawing to get a free copy of Seth Godin’s newest book “What To Do When It’s Your Turn”, a book all about exploring curiosity and taking action.

And at the very least, this post should help you explain to your boss/teacher/spouse why Trivia Crack is important to be played without ceasing. After all, you’re stimulating your curiosity, and that’ll help you remember whatever it was you were supposed to be learning, right?!

Here’s to a new year full of fantastic conundrums and arched eyebrows!

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 5.18.15 PM

[Today’s guest blogger is TomTod Board Member, Dave K. Smith. (Read his bio on our TomTod Team page). Dave is the Executive Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, Crystal Lake Campus.]

When a child falls off a bike, they brush if off and jump back on.  However, when an adult falls off a bike, their first reaction is to look around and see who saw them.  Why?  Because our “adult world” teaches us to fear failure, and when it happens, we are embarrassed by it.

Many organizations fear the loss of their innovative edge, while simultaneously allowing their fear of failure to hinder creative thought and action.  The need for rigid work processes and precise business plans forfeit our ability to take risks, allow new models to fail, and capture learnings for strategic breakthrough and groundbreaking impact.

For our communities and organizations to sustain consistent discovery, the need to release their expectations towards instant perfection and immediate results is essential.  As Pixar’s motto is “fail early, fail fast,” they have achieved steady pioneering work by loosening the grip of fear and getting the most out of each anticipated failure.  In his book, Creativity Inc., Pixar and Disney Animations CEO Ed Catmull writes, “If you aren’t experiencing failure than you are making a far worse mistake:  You are being driven by the desire to avoid it.”

This is why I love partnering with TomTod.  The heart behind TomTod is to not only capture the raw imaginations of middle school students, but to collaboratively thrust them into the unknown, harnessing the power of risk and smart failures, to then refine their altruistic dreams into realities of genuine impact.

To no surprise many of our young people make up today’s 6 million extreme gamers who actually spend half of their time failing in this $70 billion dollar industry.  In Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken, she unveils the brokenness of our world and how today’s gaming industry is filling our deepest human needs.  McGonigal shows us that, “when gamers spend half of their time failing, they actually enjoy it…Because when playing today’s well-designed games, failure doesn’t disappoint them.  It makes them happy in a very particular way:  excited, interested, and most of all optimistic.”

In a similar fashion, TomTod unleashes the inventive thoughts of students, allowing them to test and prototype their ideas to the point of appropriate failures, surfacing curiosity and breakthrough thinking.  Their ideas are then launched to not only make our world a better place, but to transform the student and position them well for future impact.

As TomTod “empowers tomorrow’s leaders today,” let us never forget that their influence with each student will carry on well into tomorrow.

Photo from

Photo from

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.