Joel Daniel Harris always has had a passion for serving his community, but it took a middle schooler with a big idea and an even bigger spirit to guide him to his life’s work.
Harris is the founder of TomTod Ideas, an innovative nonprofit that’s changing the conversation about middle school.
TomTod stands for “tomorrow’s ideas today.”
“We empower middle-school students to explore and launch innovative ideas and spark positive change for the benefit of our community,” he said.
Harris said TomTod Ideas empowers middle-schoolers through three core programs and community collaborations: “Camp What If,” a weeklong summer camp; “What If you Could,” a project-launch program; and “What If 101,” which involves school-based partnerships.
“We equip middle-schoolers with transferable skill sets, enabling them to be creative, critical thinkers who collaboratively and compassionately engage their community and world,” Harris said.
TomTod Ideas was born when Harris crossed paths with an exceptional student.
“It all started thanks to a middle-schooler with an indomitable spirit, Leah Bailey, who convinced me, despite myself, of the power of a middle-schooler with an idea,” Harris recalled. “Working alongside of her to see her idea come to life, which resulted in an educational event for the community and over $5,000 raised for Refuge of Hope, I was struck by the ability that middle-schoolers have, not to just be our leaders sometime in the future, but to inspire and lead us today.”
Harris proudly notes that middle schoolers have come up with ideas and projects that have had a significant and positive impact on the community, including:
• Stark County’s bike share program, BikeSmart, that recently passed 10,000 rides.
• Organized the annual Water Walk in Plain Local that has raised more than $10,000 for clean water initiatives.
• Developed the local food and history exploration smartphone app, CantonSmart
• Currently are in the process of launching Refugee Connect, a new web-based app to equip refugees that are settling in Northeast Ohio to discover and embrace their new home.
“Since our founding in 2012, we have worked with over 2,000 middle school students, primarily in Stark County, helping them put impactful ideas in motion while simultaneously equipping them with the skill sets that will help our community to continue to grow and thrive,” he said.
A native of Canton, Harris is a graduate of GlenOak High School and Malone University. He also holds a master of arts in ministry leadership from George Fox University.
He and his wife, Joy, also from Canton, have two daughters: Everett, turning 4 in December; and Amelie, turning 2 in January.
The family lives in Harter Heights.
“We love being a part of Canton City School District,” he said. “Everett’s at Harter Elementary, and we’re excited about the new AIM Academy.”
“Really anywhere downtown … so many great options. Especially Deli Ohio—I love their commitment to community growth and being more than a restaurant. And their food is top notch. Seems like their pastries are a hidden gem in Canton.”
Favorite place to take your kids:
“I particularly enjoy taking them on bike rides. We have a tow-along trailer, and we’ll ride at any of the many local bike paths. Everywhere in Stark Parks. A new-to-me favorite is Beech Creek Botanical Gardens.”
Favorite lunch spot:
“See my favorite restaurants.”
Most-admired CEO or business owner (not local, but still noteworthy):
“It’s a tie between Scott Harrison, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization, charity: water, and Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, both of whom have brought groundbreaking innovation to the nonprofit sector through new approaches to funding, accountability and implementation.”
Favorite indoor activity:
“With two kids under 4 and a nonprofit to run, sleep is a favorite indoor activity. Also, figuring out how to get back outside … we love hiking, biking, playing in the drive and picking fruit from our backyard (peaches, apples, blackberries and strawberries).”