Back in 2012, Zachary Quinn and Brian Keller were just a couple of college sophomores at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. The two friends were paired up for a class project in an entrepreneurship course, where they came up with the idea for Love Your Melon.
Love Your Melon’s mission was to sell beanies and other apparel and use a portion of the proceeds to donate to children battling cancer, whether that be through helping individual families or funding research.
“They thought, ‘What better cause can you have than to fight pediatric cancer?” said Bridgette Walters, the Vice-Captain of UW-Milwaukee’s Love Your Melon crew.
Walters expressed immense pride in UW-Milwaukee’s crew, stating that the team started out with less than 10 people and now has a crew of 25. When volunteers are counted, they are the largest organization on campus. Out of 840 crews across the nation, they are listed in the top 30.
However, in the beginning, Quinn and Keller were met with doubt from their professors. But after their classmates and peers lined up to purchase the hats, their nerves and fear of failing flew out the window. The original business model was “buy one, give one,” and within two days, their initial stock had sold out.
Fast forward to meeting their first goal of selling 45,000 hats, – one for every child battling cancer in America – the business partners decided on a new marketing plan to attract customers.
They formed the Love Your Melon Campus Crew Program. This program allowed college campuses to start organizations in the name of Love Your Melon in order to represent the brand on social media and work hard to raise awareness for childhood cancer.
Emily Norman, the President of UW-Milwaukee’s Love Your Melon crew, was more than ready to take on this challenge. After transferring from Marquette in 2015 to find no Love Your Melon crew at UW-Milwaukee, she decided to start one herself.
It didn’t take long for students to become interested.
“I was a freshman, and I was eager to get more involved with the school and community,” said Jennifer Kordik, the secretary for UW-Milwaukee’s Love Your Melon crew. “When I learned about Love Your Melon and their mission, I felt that I could really make a difference in the world being apart of something special like this.”
Walters saw the organization as something that hit close to home.
“I had a history of cancer within my family,” said Walters. “My mom had breast cancer, as well as I’ve always just really loved working with kids, and something cool about Love Your Melon that I saw was, not only were you getting funding for this and selling things that were going to a good cause, but you were actually getting to see exactly hands-on the product and the gratification of helping.”
The crew’s obvious goal is to sell as many products as possible, which allows them to earn more credits. These credits are then used to help a child. When a crew earns enough credits, they are then able to have a donation event, where they head into hospitals and visit with families and children, all the while handing out hats. However, credits can also be used to host a Superhero Adventure.
Superhero Adventures are similar to when a child takes part in a Make-a-Wish, though Love Your Melon is actively seeking out children instead of asking them to apply. The crew gets to know the child as much as possible and then plans an entire day of fun and puts together a gift basket.
Both Kordik and Walters named a young woman named Nichole as the Superhero who had impacted them the most.
After taking Nichole to the Milwaukee Art Museum and to dinner at Pizza Man, the crew gave her a gift basket and had Pounce the Panther, the UWM Dance Team and a local news team around to welcome her. The also set her up with two other Milwaukee organizations, one of which is funding a laptop for her, as she starts her first semester of college in the fall.
“It’s just cool to see that not only are we giving her something to take her mind off everything – that we’re giving her financial help and things that are going to set her up for success in the future,” said Walters.
Kordik mirrored this sentiment.
“Seeing the look of joy on her face reiterates why this organization is amazing and special,” she said.
Looking forward, the crew is looking for even more growth.
“I think constantly expanding our reach, getting more volunteers to be apart of our team, but also just continuing to reach out and finding more kids in the area and staying connected,” said Walters.
Quinn and Keller would be proud. After five years, Love Your Melon has donated more than $2.6 million and over 98,000 hats, but they’re not done yet.