Using Data to Dream

Posted on September 06, 2022


As seen in The Difference: Summer/Fall 2022 Edition

TomTod Ideas, a youth development nonprofit based in Canton that works exclusively with middle schoolers, integrates data from the Stark County Community Assessment into its programming year-round.

Through in-school classes, after-school clubs and week-long summer camps, middle schoolers are exposed to the needs in their community and encouraged to explore and launch ideas with empathy and imagination to help their community thrive.

"The really exciting part about using community data with middle schoolers is seeing how it provides a fact-based and safe meeting place for middle schoolers to share their personal stories, ask curious questions about the data and express feelings of empathy for each other and their neighbors," said Patrick Gerber, TomTod's team guide and adventure curator.

The ideas middle schoolers dream up to meet our community's needs are equally unique as they are compelling.

After learning about chronic absenteeism rates in Stark County and how students who frequently miss school are at serious risk of falling behind in school, a group of eighth-grade students from Canton City Schools in TomTod’s What If 101 class developed ideas to improve attendance. Students came up with ways to incentivize school attendance and offer families support with barriers to school attendance, including lack of childcare, poor sleep habits and transportation challenges.

While attending TomTod's Camp What If in 2021, four local middle school students – Naomi Cain, Alsey Haas, Makynna Watson and Matie Watson – discovered that Stark County's population is diverse, but people tend to live in areas with people of their own race or ethnic background. Inspired to encourage people to understand and celebrate each other's backgrounds and traditions, they came up with an idea to create a cookbook that shares cultural recipes and diverse stories from Stark County residents.

“We believe the best way to discover new cultures, break down stereotypes and build empathy for others is by sharing delicious food and conversation together," said the cookbook team. “Our hope is that this cookbook will be full of meaningful stories and recipes that raise awareness of the diversity in our community.”

After meeting weekly during the school year and collecting over 40 recipes and stories from people like Tony Ly from local Asian restaurant Basil (pictured above with team member Alsey Haas) and Tracy Foster, owner of Sister's Soul Food, they launched their cookbook during May's First Friday celebration in downtown Canton. They gave away more than 50 copies of their cookbook and published it online at

Through TomTod's programming, our community's students are encouraged to tackle challenges and are provided with connections, resources and mentorship that empower them to feel confident about driving change and making a difference.  

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