Joel Daniel Harris is the Founder and Executive Dreamer of TomTod, where they “empower middle school students to launch absurd ideas that enhance the common good.”
- In 2 sentences, explain your work with the HWHF?
Through grants provided by the HWHF, TomTod Ideas provides a variety of programming that empowers middle school students to explore and launch ideas that help their communities grow and thrive. These include in-school programming throughout Stark County, a variety of week-long summer camps, and a student-led consulting group.
- Describe what your organization does best.
Middle schoolers have passion, imagination, energy and the ability to take action. What they lack is the knowledge and experience of how to direct all of those abilities toward enacting positive change in their communities. What TomTod does best is creating intersections for the innate abilities of middle schoolers to meet up with the wisdom, resources, and experiences of adults which results in innovative, exciting ideas being birthed and implemented.
- What’s the best part of your day?
The best part of the day with TomTod is when we see the lightbulb go off for a student; see them connect their abilities with their communities needs and strengths. The best part of my day is coming home to a giggling two year old who wants to wrestle before I can even get my coat off.
- What are you currently working on?
I’m very excited about our brand new overnight summer camps. Using a variety of interactive, engaging approaches, we’ll be exploring the refugee crisis with students and envisioning new ways to extend care to the most vulnerable.
- When did you know you wanted to be a(n) _____________?
I quit my job four years ago to launch TomTod Ideas without much knowledge of how it would all come together. It’s been a wonderful, wild ride of learning and growth along the way. Who wouldn’t want to be an Executive Dreamer?!
- What piece of advice would you give someone looking to break into this field?
A lot of folks are intimidated by middle school students but I always say the difference between a middle school student and a high school student is that a middle school student asks “do you like me?” and a high school student asks “do I like you?” What matters most to middle schoolers is that you just show up and care…that means the world to them!
- What do you read for fun?
I love books & articles on neuroscience, early adolescent development, and creativity/innovation. Other favorites include anything by Wendell Berry, Cry the Beloved Country, My Side of the Mountain, and Les Miserables.
- Are you a Windows or Apple person?
- What’s one thing you can’t work without?
Coffee & wifi.
- Who do you admire and why?
Scott Harrison, Wendell Berry and Malala Yousafzai. Scott, as the founder of charity: water, has entirely disrupted the nonprofit industry in the last 10 years, through shifting expectations related to innovation, marketing/communication, and accountability. Wendell has called people to re-envisioning the future via re-understanding the past via his novels centered on the fictional Port Williams community, as well as brilliant essays and poetry exploring the beauty of rural America. Malala literally took a bullet for her pursuit of education, fought back from the brink of death, and now fights for the rights of women and girls around the globe.
- What’s the most interesting place you have ever been (for work)?
The middle school brain is a weird, wonderful landscape and I get to explore it nearly every day.
- What’s the most interesting thing you have ever done?
- What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for your work?
For work = New York City, twice. Once for a conference and once for exploring a likemindedorganization. Personally = Thailand and China, for a month each, during a gap year in college.
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
The opportunity to work full time enacting a dream that you had/have is humbling, thrilling and terrifying. So is parenting, for that matter.
- What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I want to see the landscape of social expectation and capacity shift for how the world views middle schoolers. Here we have this incredible gathering of people with burgeoning abilities and gifted imaginations but most of us run the other direction. I hope that someday when someone says “so and so was acting like a 13 year old” folks will assume it was because that person had a wild idea they were taking action on, rather than they were acting immature.
- What’s your favorite activity outside of work?
I love taking hikes with my daughter and my wife and I love exploring new cultures & countries.
- If you were on an island and could only bring three things – what would they be?
If it’s a vacation island, my wife and two suitcases filled with books. If it’s a survival island, I’m not sure if it’s more appropriate to wish my family was there to be with or not there & then they’d be safe.
- How do you define success and how do you measure it?
Living your values to the fullest extent. Which likely means you’re always falling short, but part of success would be not giving up on the pursuit.
- Who were the most important people to help you create success in your life and what did they do for/with you?
Todd Larson, my middle school youth pastor, for modeling what investing in students looks like. Jason Ferrel, my longest, closest friend for continually convincing me that growth and change are worth it and there is beauty in the unknown.
- If you could do something as a career other than what you are doing now (no limits) what would it be?
National Park Ranger
- What are your top 3 favorite movies of all time?
No Country for Old Men, Interstellar, Finding Neverland
- What are you doing now that will make a positive difference for future generations?
I hope that’s what TomTod Ideas is all about!
- What question did we not ask but should ask the next person?
This seems quite comprehensive 🙂