At Boise State, Love Your Melon blends learning, compassion

 Boise State students Tristin Harris and Aspen Phillips, dressed as superheroes, visit with 3-year-old cancer patient Reece Harper as part of a Love Your Melon home visitation. Photo courtesy of Aspen Phillips

Boise State students Tristin Harris and Aspen Phillips, dressed as superheroes, visit with 3-year-old cancer patient Reece Harper as part of a Love Your Melon home visitation. Photo courtesy of Aspen Phillips

BY CHAD ESTES

Special to the Idaho Statesman

It all started in a math class. Aspen Phillips was a freshman at Boise State University in fall 2014 when friend Tristin Harris asked her if she had ever heard of a new national movement called Love Your Melon.

That simple conversation launched the effort to bring the group to Boise State.

Nationally, Love Your Melon was first started in 2012 by two college students at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

Zachary Quinn had missed the first day of his entrepreneurship course and asked fellow classmate Brian Keller to fill him in on what he’d missed. They were tasked with creating a business that made money by the end of the semester and with being mindful of how they developed their brand.

Quinn and Keller strategized how to succeed with a “buy one, give one” blueprint — for every one item that was purchased, they would give one away for free.

They landed on hats as their product and children going through cancer as their beneficiaries. Initially, they ordered 400 hats from a manufacturer in Portland. They also designed their logo, sewed it onto their hats, created an online store and began to utilize social media.

All 200 hats they had for sale were sold out in three days.

To fulfill the second half of the mission, Keller and Quinn sought out local hospitals in Minnesota where they could gift the other 200 hats to the children battling cancer. Their project, and their business, was a success.

“Seeing the smiles we created by giving the kids Love Your Melon hats and spending time with them was an incredible experience. We were inspired to keep making our hats,” Quinn shares on the website Loveyourmelon.com. “To date, we have donated over 75,000 hats to children battling cancer and over $1.1 million to pediatric cancer research and immediate support for families.”

Spreading the smiles to other campuses

As their hat business took off, Keller and Quinn decided to expand not only their product line but also their participation base. They started the Campus Crew Program for other college students on other college campuses to work in their own communities to improve the lives of children battling cancer.

Groups and clubs of 10 to 20 students form a chapter with the following goals: raise awareness of the disease, create promotions and sales events for the Love Your Melon products, and partner with local hospitals to put smiles on the young oncology patients. The program has more than 11,000 crew members in 736 educational institutions. The crew members at each campus are all volunteers.

In Boise, Phillips and Harris began to share the Love Your Melon vision with other BSU students after that fateful conversation. They maxed out the group at 20 students their second year and now have a waiting list for those who would like to participate. Potential members write essays about why they are passionate about participating in Love Your Melon.

“While we can’t help with the family’s medical costs, what we can do is put a smile on a child’s face and help them forget they have cancer for a day,” Phillips says about Love Your Melon.

Putting a Smile On Reece

The first home visit the Boise State Campus Crew completed was in February.

“It was on National Superhero Day that Tristin and I visited 3-year-old Reece Harper, a little boy battling leukemia,” Phillips says. “Because we needed to protect his immunity system, only two of us were allowed to do the visit.”

“Sometimes I think my life can be hard. On the day of our visit, I was stressed out with schoolwork and upcoming finals, but when we met Reece, all my troubles just melted away,” Phillips says. “This sweet little boy showed us his port and tells us it is where his medicine goes. He was just so vibrant and happy even though he was in treatment. It really touched my heart and made me realize how important it is to get involved in people’s lives — even if it is only for a day — and make a difference. When we left his house my heart was completely full.”

The visit moved Reece, too. “It was awesome when they showed up at our house,” says his mom, Mali McCracken. “He was so surprised to see two superheroes at the door. Ever since that day, he has had an obsession with superheroes. He liked them before, but now they are all he ever wants to talk about. He still talks about those gals coming over to visit — they definitely made an impression on him.”

Reece is scheduled for two more years of treatments for his acute lymphocytic leukemia. His mom says he is handling them “like a champ.”

How to Love Your Melon or someone else’s

You do not have to be a member of the BSU Campus Crew to be involved with Love Your Melon. The students are always grateful for volunteers, especially when it comes to supporting the group’s events. Email Aspen at aspenphillips@u.boisestate.edu for details.

To purchase a hat, shirt or Love Your Melon accessory, go to loveyourmelon.com. Be sure to choose the BSU Campus Crew at checkout to help the local outreach goals.

This article originally ran in the Idaho Statesman on October 9, 2016