updated May 17, 2024

Joel Daniel Harris to “phase back in” to daily TomTod life

It’s been a very full several weeks at TomTod, in all the ways you can imagine. The TomTod team is doing well! Along with bringing Barb Bennett on part-time, Lead Adventure Curator Pat and Lead Story Guide Kayla have taken on additional responsibilities as team coordinators. Every team member has gone above and beyond to ensure middle schoolers are heard, celebrated, and empowered.


There are still Camp What If spots open for middle schoolers in Akron, Canton, and North Canton! Register your middle schooler for a fun, empowering TomTod summer!


The Feast of Ideas was a great success, and we had a blast celebrating middle schoolers with 200 of our closest friends. You can still give toward the Feast! 


With the unexpected challenges TomTod is facing, your gift enables us to navigate those challenges and empower middle schoolers well.

Donate here!


Joel is doing well! He had surgery on April 10th to remove and biopsy most of his brain tumor. He is currently recovering from that surgery, and his medical team expect a full recovery over the next several months. The biopsy results are positive! While it looks like the tumor is cancerous, it is slow-growing with his doctors recommending close monitoring but not treatment yet. (That’s good news!) You can see the whole update in Joel’s personal blog.


TomTod’s Board of Directors are working on a plan with Joel to slowly phase him back into TomTod daily life over the coming months. So far, this has included keeping in touch with the rest of the TomTod team and assisting with daily activities as he is able. He is following doctor’s (and Joy’s) orders closely as he reintegrates. 


Joel even made it to the Feast!


Thank you to our community. You’ve been supportive and gracious as we’ve navigated this time. We’ve said since the beginning of April that our work with middle schoolers would not stop, and it hasn’t. The TomTod team is excited for Joel to phase his way back in as we continue to empower middle schoolers to help their community thrive.



updated April 9, 2024

Barb Bennett to join TomTod leadership team in the interim

The TomTod Board of Directors voted unanimously Monday, April 8 to hire Barb Bennett as Interim Team Coordinator in light of the medical absence of Joel Daniel Harris. 


“The Board is excited to welcome Barb Bennett to the TomTod team.  Barb has accepted a position to provide leadership, strategic thinking and community outreach during Joel Daniel Harris’ time away from the organization.  Barb has a wealth of organizational experience and numerous relationships in the northeast Ohio community.  Barb’s previous commitment to TomTod and her extensive business leadership experience make her an excellent fit for the organization.  As you have the opportunity, please welcome Barb Bennett to the TomTod leadership team.” Matt Sutter, Board President


Before launching her own business, Barb was the Vice President of Education and Workforce for the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce for five years. She was responsible for connecting businesses with education systems as part of the team to expand the region’s talent development.  In addition, she was instrumental in the founding and management of the newly formed Stark County Manufacturing Workforce Development Partnerships, an Ohio Manufacturers’ Association endorsed manufacturing industry sector partnership.


Throughout her career Barb has always been very active in her community. She is a graduate of the third class of Leadership Stark County and has served in leadership capacities as Chairman of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, General Chairman of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival, and Chairman of the Aultman Health Foundation. She has served on many nonprofit boards in the community.


“I am excited to be part of and support the creative, imaginative, energetic and FUN TomTod team.” Barb Bennett, Interim Team Coordinator


The team is excited to welcome Barb to the team as we keep JDH closely in our thoughts and prayers!



updated April 8, 2024

Dear community members, parents, alumni, and donors,


Last week, our founder and Executive Dreamer, Joel Daniel Harris experienced a medical emergency and was taken to the hospital. After a thorough examination, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain. He is scheduled for surgery to remove and biopsy the tumor on Wednesday, April 10, and treatment plans will be determined following the biopsy.


Please pray for Joel, his wife Joy, and their two children. Their family will post regularly on posthope.org, providing more updates about Joel’s treatment.


This page will be where we communicate organizational updates in the coming weeks.


The TomTod team wants you to know we are committed to empowering middle schoolers. While Joel navigates recovery and treatment away from TomTod HQ, our belief remains that middle schoolers matter to our community. This important work continues on with the TomTod team.


We are all here because of Joel’s unwavering belief that middle schoolers are empathetic, imaginative, creative, thoughtful, and brave just as they are. They don’t need to wait until they’re older, wiser, or more experienced to positively impact their community. As long as middle schoolers are in our community, we remain committed to empowering them.


We’ve compiled an FAQ for some common questions you might have, but we want to say clearly (and Joel wholeheartedly endorses this) that our work is not on pause. The Feast is still happening on May 9 (buy your tickets here), summer camp is still happening, and middle schoolers are still amazing!


“While the board sends Joel our prayers and well-wishes, we have a plan in place to ensure that our programming partners continue to receive the highest quality and most creative programming to empower middle schoolers to explore and launch ideas that put empathy and imagination into action to help their community thrive.” -Matt Sutter, Board President.


Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us with questions.



Amy, Colleen, Danisia, Kayla, Pat, Rob, Sarah, & Zane
Matt Sutter, Board President – boardpresident@tomtodideas.org
& Board of Directors


P.S. To middle schoolers: Your perspective is important, and it matters. You may not feel like adults listen to you, but we always will. Our work toward a future where other adults also listen to you isn’t stopping any time soon. We’re here for you.





How can I help?

Joel and Joy are keeping everyone in the loop for how they can be best cared for by their community. See their PostHope page for regular updates. For now, your love and prayers are felt.

For TomTod, you can donate at givebutter.com/feast2024


I was working with Joel; who do I contact now?

All inquiries can be sent to Kayla DeVitto at kayla@tomtodideas.org. If you are in contact with a specific team member other than Joel, continue to stay in communication with that team member. 


Is programming still happening?

Yes! The team is working hard to make this our best summer yet and are actively planning for the fall.

Summer Camp registration is rolling out! Check out our summer page for info and registration details.


Who else is on the TomTod team?

TomTod has great depth of experience and has come a long way in 11 years. We now have nine TomTod employees! You can find out more about us at tomtodideas.org/team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>