This article can be found in the Alumni Magazine.

May 10, 2022

Every Sunday, Jerrell Holman (BS ’17) and his five best friends get together and discuss ways to make the world a better place. They share lighter topics, of course, befitting a group who were buddies even before their days at Fort Wayne’s Northrop High School. But eventually, the conversation rolls back to their vision for serving others.

Their shared goal of making a difference manifests itself through their nonprofit business Bigger Than Us (BTU).

“BTU is focused on bettering our communities while exercising unity,” Holman said. “We do that by hosting events, hosting programs, talking to students, hosting giveaways and using our platform for those voices. The six of us have been friends for 15 years, so that adds that little extra spice.”

BTU, originally formed in 2015, focuses much of its effort on Fort Wayne’s southeast side, an area where the friends grew up and where they feel a need to provide inspiration and opportunity for children and young people. The events vary, from backpack giveaways for elementary students to Easter egg hunts for all ages, to networking events for young adults. Like many nonprofits, BTU jumped in to help with COVID-19 issues, distributing care packages for families in need.

Holman and his friends remain driven to find new ways to make a difference. Each of them has their own career path—Holman works with Horizon Bank—but they cultivate their friendship and make a difference in their community through BTU. The other five friends are Brian Palmer, Markiston Williams, Daryl Love, Tyler Whitfield and Lorenzo Holder. They juggle a lot of schedules to keep BTU rolling, as they enter a time of starting families of their own.

“When we first started nonprofit work in 2017, we did four or five events,” Holman said. “Since then, we’ve done 50 or 60 events. We’ve worked with a lot of small business and we’re still meeting new people who don’t know us and what we’re trying to do.”

Holman often encounters people his age—he’s 27—who understand and relate to the need to give back to the community but are sometimes hesitant about what to do next.

“There are a lot of people I’d like to see be part of BTU and they talk a lot, but they don’t do it,” Holman said. “They should just go ahead and do it. The experiences we’ve had keep me motivated, trying to create a better environment for the community. That’s my main motivation.”

Holman loved sports from the age of 6, and dove heavily into them as a seventh grader at Jefferson Middle School, a move he said steered him in a productive direction. From there, he developed into a star football player at Northrop High School (where the friendships solidified) and attracted the attention of USF coaches. While he pursued his degree in business administration, Holman became a standout defensive back on the Cougars’ 2016 NAIA national championship team.

After college, he sought a way to continue to make extra impact, which is when he and his friends founded BTU.

In their Sunday meetings, Holman and friends share insight they gather individually, through personal and business connections. They embark on book studies. They brainstorm ways to help young people gain the knowledge and motivation needed to be successful and make a difference in the world. They keep building positivity through action.

“We feel like we have helped paved the way for our age group to get out there and do something,” Holman said. “We feel like we’re expanding, but we are still meeting new people who don’t know us and what we’re trying to do.”

Fundraising to finance projects remains a challenge for BTU as the young men running the business dream about bigger ways to impact Fort Wayne and beyond. Holman envisions a day when he grows further as an entrepreneur and can run BTU as a full-time operation.

“We’re looking to expand with alumni who might not live in Fort Wayne,” Holman said. “We’d love to expand to other communities. There are some things we’re working on, but we do need more sponsors. The more sponsors we have, the more we can expand.”

Anyone interested in helping BTU can contact the organization at [email protected]. They can also text 44321 for a link to donate.