Dare to Live Different: Why two young residents are giving back in Fort Wayne

Amidst the volunteers distributing hundreds of COVID-19 food boxes on Saturday at a Free Food Giveaway in Fort Wayne, two young city residents were unloading boxes at the Utopian Community Grocery.

While they blended in with the crowd of about 45 volunteers who came out that day to donate their time and energy, what you might not know about these volunteers is that giving back is becoming a way of life for them.

Trell Jones and Donovan McLeister are longtime friends who co-founded the nonprofit Dare to Live Different (DTLD) Inc.

“I’m 22 and he’s 21, and we’re getting our bearings in the city,” Jones says.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with them to learn more about their nonprofit, and why they’re investing in Fort Wayne’s future.


IFW: Tell us about your nonprofit, Dare to Live Different.

DM: It all started last year when we ran an event on Thanksgiving where we fed 200 homeless people in Fort Wayne, and we donated meals to the Salvation Army. Since then, it’s just grown into a group of us who want to give back to Fort Wayne.

TJ: We did an event for Christmas last year, as well, where we collected clothing and personal items from people around the city to donate. Then we went to local shelters for women and men to distribute them.

Our mission is: "Providing individuals and families in need with basic necessities that are essential to live."


IFW: How did Dare to Live Different get started?

TJ: We’ve all been friends for a while now. A bunch of us met while we were playing sports.

DM: We all just came together and wanted to give back to the community. Thanksgiving is the time to be thankful, so we thought it was a good time to start.

TJ: Last year, we decided to stay up for about three days straight cooking food and putting it in all of these containers, and then on Thanksgiving Day, we skipped our own family Thanksgivings and delivered food all day. We went all the way from Monroe, Indiana, back through to Fort Wayne.


IFW: How did you know where to take the food?

DM: We did a call out on social media, and whoever reached out to us, we gave them meals. We also reached out to the homeless shelters, so we served families and the homeless.

In the future, we’re going to keep doing whatever people need to serve them; not just provide food.

This summer, we were planning to do a Backpack Give Back and collect school supplies for children. I’m a trainer, so I was going to host a Bootcamp event where you had to donate school supplies to get in. Now with coronavirus, that’s not able to happen yet.

But we get a lot of ideas for events by talking with other nonprofits. We collaborate, and we have meetings every week, and then we go from there.

TJ: So far, we have five people on our team, and we’d like to build up to something bigger.


IFW: You’re both young and up-and-coming residents here. Tell us what makes you want to stay in Fort Wayne and invest?

TJ: Almost everyone in our nonprofit is 21. I’m 22. Our youngest member is 19. This is where we grew up. This is where everything started for me that’s turned me into a man up to this point.

It seems like everyone our age is trying so hard to get out rather than make Fort Wayne a better place to live.

That’s how I feel though. Fort Wayne is a good city. It’s nice. It’s big; we just want to make it a little bit better.


IFW: Beyond Dare to Live Different, what else are you up to right now?

DM: I actually just got back from bootcamp for the international guard. I’m also a trainer at a gym, and I’m probably going to go to school here soon.

TJ: I graduated high school from Horizon Christian Academy here in Fort Wayne. At this moment, I’m going to start earning my business marketing degree at Indiana Tech. I also run a small clothing brand called AOB Clothing, which stands for All One Blood Clothing. It signifies togetherness and unity.

DM: In addition to being a nonprofit that we both work on, Dare to Live Different is also the name of my clothing brand, as well. We have the nonprofit side, and then the clothing brand side is separate, and a percentage of my clothing brand goes into our nonprofit.

TJ: Actually, just about every person in our nonprofit owns a separate clothing brand, either screen printing or using a heat press.


IFW: That’s interesting. What inspired you to start clothing brands?

TJ: I started AOB Clothing about two years ago in February 2018 once things started getting chaotic and what not. I thought, if people are going to express themselves in fashion, then why not on a t-shirt?


IFW: What inspired you to come out and volunteer, passing out food boxes in Southeast Fort Wayne on a Saturday morning?

DM: I just got back yesterday from the military, so I just heard about this from Trell yesterday, and I thought, “There’s no better way to try to build some connections here, meet the community, and just try to get involved.”

TJ: During the coronavirus, since we weren’t able to invest in events that we wanted to do, we decided to give back in other ways. We’ve always wanted to invest in this community. I had seen Ty’s work with the Human Agriculture Cooperative on Facebook, and I just wanted to help out with it. I wanted to do what he’s doing to better the city—especially the south side of the city, since it’s kind of run down. We’re trying to build it back up and make it better.

I told Ty, “I want in on anything you do.” We helped out with the Curbside BBQs, too.

DM: At the end of the day, it’s not even about getting our name out there. We’ll help anybody, and we don’t have to put our name on it, as long as we’re helping the community.

TJ: We really have a good community here in Fort Wayne overall.

DM: Exactly.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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