“Middle schoolers should use their innovative minds to try and change their communities.”
Elizabeth discovered new ways to keep her community clean and improve the common good in What If 101 at TomTod Ideas.
“Camp What If is a really good way to connect with your community and show how much impact kids in middle school can have.”
Isaiah explored his community in ways he’d never seen before during Camp What If at TomTod Ideas.
“When I was a middle schooler and someone listened to me and my idea, it felt really good, it felt like somebody cared and wanted to help.”
Lucy explored ideation at Camp What If and serves as a student representative on the Board of Directors at TomTod Ideas.
“When you’re asked if you have an idea that can change your community, it makes you feel that you are needed. And that self-worth makes you want to go out and change things.”
Morgan launched her idea in What If You Could at TomTod Ideas.
The Anti-Hunger Games
On a family vacation, Maranda saw the needs of impoverished people who go without food daily. When she returned home from a week of fun with family, she couldn’t get the thought of people going hungry out of her mind.
What if, she thought, we could create a day of fun and games that raises awareness and funds and educates people about the problems of hunger in their own communities?
Maranda knew something had to be done. She applied to What If You Could and, once accepted, formed a team of people ready to tackle the problem of hunger in Stark County.
Maranda applied for Stark SOUP, a micro-grant funding pitch contest that gives the winning contestant funds to make their idea a reality. Maranda pitched the Anti-Hunger Games to the the Stark SOUP audience, alongside three other adult competitors, and she won—receiving $2,700 towards her anti-hunger initiative.
The Games support the Backpack Program at North Canton Church of Christ. The Backpack Program works to eliminate hunger and raise the quality of life and education of people by distributing groceries, school supplies, and donated clothing to families and children near or below the poverty level.
Spark the Park
In North Canton, there are several parks dispersed throughout the town, one of them being Price Park. The beloved park is a local destination for community to come together to enjoy various activities. Despite the park’s many admirable attributes, there is plenty of room for improvement. In the Spark the Park project, through TomTod Ideas’ What If You Could program, the group of middle school students are working to reinnovate Price Park to provoke a positive environment and create a sense of community. A sense of community pride will be enhanced and attract people from outside the community. This will be accomplished through the removal of inconveniences that exist in Price Park. This includes planting flowers, painting gazebos, removing goose waste, and bringing in new playground equipment. The students will also promote environmental welfare in the process. The community will be surveyed to assure that the students are representing the community voice through the remodeling of Price Park.
While attending Camp What If in 2014, Abby, Devin, and Alexis had an idea. What If Stark County had a bike lending program that would give anyone who needed it access to better transportation, exercise, and recreation?
And, they thought, what if it could all be free?
After seeing the Canton area and its people who couldn’t always get rides to work, get decent exercise in the city, or couldn’t afford a bike, they knew something could be done. They met with a city engineer who discussed how bicycles and city street infrastructure works. They brainstormed, they talked, and then they took a tour of the Stark County District Library – the Smart Store, where everything is free.
If everything is free at the Smart Store, couldn’t bikes be free there, too? The answer? Yes!
Gabby, Devin, and Alexis along with TomTod Ideas staff met with Stark County District Library administrators, Canton Parks and Recreation, and Stark Parks to launch the idea into a reality. After much discussion, planning, and strategizing, Gabby, Devin, and Alexis handed the idea over to the three cooperating departments, and BikeSmart was born.
Utilizing the services of Zagster, a bicycle sharing company, and Ernie’s Bike Shop, BikeSmart now has six hubs in the Stark County area and provides free bike rentals to Stark County District Library card holders, and everything is managed on your phone through an app.
BikeSmart was awarded first place in Management Innovation from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA). The program was also a top three finalist (out of an original field of 14 entries) for the prestigious 2015 OPRA Governor’s Award for Parks and Recreation. BikeSmart and the Stark County District Library were also honored with the Library Innovation Award from the Ohio Library Council, for having “a significant impact on the community” and partnering with outside organizations.
Thanks to middle schoolers Gabby, Devin, and Alexis, the Stark County area now has a free bike-sharing program accessible to all for a better, more reliable, healthier lifestyle.
The very first TomTod Ideas project took place in 2011 after a middle school student from Hartville, Ohio conjured an absurd dream in her head.
Leah had been reading a book called “Generation Change” by Zach Hunter and started thinking about what homelessness and poverty looked like in her town and surrounding community. She discovered that not many people in her neighborhood knew much about being homeless, and for the most part, everyone seemed to be pretty well fed. She also realized that about 15 minutes up the road was a city filled with people in need – people who didn’t seem to have a voice in the community.
These thoughts and inspirations from a book were the spark for a big event that would later be known as “The Shack-A-Thon” and the kick-off to TomTod Ideas.
Projecting a Dream
Leah approached her youth pastor at the time, Joel Daniel Harris (JDH), about her idea.
“What if we could have a bunch of people sleep outside in cardboard boxes for a night? Along the way we could learn about homelessness and poverty, raise awarness about the issue, and raise funds for a local homeless shelter called Refuge of Hope.”
JDH, who is the founder of TomTod Ideas grew with excitement as he heard Leah’s story. He knew that this was the perfect project to kick off TomTod and couldn’t wait to help Leah in making this dream a reality.
Launching a Dream…It Takes a Team
Leah was backed by a mentor team consisting of four adults who assisted her and offered guidance along the way.
She was also backed by a group of her friends who made up the leadership team for the Shack-A-Thon and who helped Leah do everything she needed in preparation for this wonderful night.
After a passel of planning meetings, marketing efforts, and phone calls to acquire cardboard boxes, the Shack-A-Thon was ready to begin.
To kick the night off, Leah lead the group in a dicussion about homelessness and poverty in Canton. As the evening continued, guest speakers included Darin Nissley, Executive Director of Lighthouse Ministries in Canton, Benjamin Payne, Worship Leader at First Friends Church, and Duane Wycoff, Director of Refuge of Hope.
Throughout the night, participants got to learn, reflect, discuss and meditate on the idea that people do not have homes or food right in their own town, and then they experienced it by sleeping the entire night in a cardboard box. And, for the record, August nights can get pretty chilly and super soggy!
The Shack-A-Thon raised over $5,000 for Refuge of Hope and Leah was able to continue the conversation about homelessness and poverty with everyone who particpated and with friends and family members who really wanted to hear about this crazy event she planned.
Now as a senior in high school, Leah has aspirations to pursue community service and work for a non-profit organization in the future.
Leah took a small spark of inspiration, allowed her imagination to run wild, had the courage to present it to an adult and ended up putting on a widely successful event that truly worked to enhance the common good.
Duct 4 Downs
Derek Ross, a middle school student from Louisville, Ohio was obsessed with duct tape…No, seriously…He could make virtually anything out of it: purses, wallets and most importantly to the Duct 4 Downs project, bracelets.
He also had a passion for Down Syndrome. This might sound strange at first, but ever since Derek witnessed two of his peers getting made fun of over and over again at school, he knew he had to take a stand. Derek realized the students making jokes weren’t mean hearted, they just didn’t know better.
Derek decided to pair his love of duct tape and his passion for Down Syndrome to create Duct 4 Downs, a project that raised awareness for those affected by the genetic condition.
Along with his mentor and leadership teams, Derek crafted braided duct tape bracelets that were sold with a fact about Down Syndrome attached. When someone bought a bracelet, they received a little bit of education and they helped a local organization at the same time.
Derek spoke to over 3,000 people at various schools, youth groups and community events about Down Syndrome. At each event he set up a table to sell bracelets.
All proceeds from bracelet sales went directly to The Upside of Downs, an organization providing support, education and advocacy for people with Down Syndrome, their families and communities throughout Northeast Ohio.
In December of 2013, Derek and his team presented a check for over $1,200 to The Upside of Downs!
U3: Stand Up, Speak Up, Don’t Give Up
Morgan experienced a ton of assemblies on the problems of bullying. However, no matter how effective the presentation, everything seemed to shift back to a not-so-nice normal after a couple days. So she dreamed of what could be.
Morgan decided that three things would be helpful: shift from an adult speaking at students model to a peer-to-peer model, create on ongoing curriculum that runs throughout the school year instead of a one-time event, and adjust the format from large group only to a variety of size and style formats.
To create the curriculum, Morgan worked with a team of peers, middle and high school age from several different school districts, as well as adult mentors that included middle school teachers and guidance counselors.
Morgan and her team created an encouraging support for students that helps them stand up for what is good, speak up for their friends who are getting bullied, and never give up when faced with the challenges of life.
In January 2014, her peer team trained 8th grade student leaders at Lehman. The 8th graders then entered classrooms and taught the lessons to other students.
The curriculum involved a variety of interactive lessons that included object lessons, games, Q&A and student feedback in a classroom setting with a small group of students.
Mrs. Shock is the guidance counselor at Lehman and supervised the project. She said, “The relevance of students teaching peers is that students are more likely to listen to each other. The lessons Morgan created used language students use and the scenarios were relevant to their everyday life in middle school. The benefit first for the student leaders was watching their leadership skills grow. The quieter students began to gain confidence and found their voice, also. The younger students benefited from the lessons and looked up to the 8th grade leaders.”
Morgan continues to have an interest in anti-bullying projects and is exploring her next moves.
The Water Walk
The 2013 Water Walk group was comprised of six Oakwood students who wanted to raise awareness for what life is like without clean water, teach about the living conditions in sub-saharan Africa and raise money for an organization making a difference there.
The Water Walk began when the students were assigned a project to explore clean water issues. The students planned the event and selected Nuru International to receive the funds, since one student had a relative involved with the organization. The more students researched the topic, the more they were inspired to take action.
Students met with adult mentors over a few months and set goals, created a timeline, divided up responsibilities, selected other team members and followed through with the things they needed to do.
Mission Accomplished: 140 middle school students were seen walking with 5 gallon buckets of water over their heads. Signs lined the walking trail with statistics about Africa (African girls start carrying water jugs to and from their homes at the age of 5). Money was raised to support the work of Nuru International, a community-based relief agency that creates sustainable poverty relief plans for African villages. In October 2013, The Oakwood students sent the amount raised, $1,732.00, to Nuru International! Wow!
In 2014, Oakwood students decided to hold a Water Walk…on their own! The students raised another $2,000 and talked with business leaders & educators who continued to cause awareness of the issue. In 2015 they did it again!