When two high school boys decided to change the world, it didn’t surprise them that their ideas might offend those aggrieved by a discussion of testicles.
What has been a surprise to founders Chris Utterback and Nick Ost is that the nonprofit organization they created, Sacks of Love, has raised more than $20,000 in the name of testicular cancer.
“And we hope to double that this year,” Ost said.
There’s a website that shows men and boys how to check themselves, there’s a 5K run scheduled this month in Puyallup, and there have been sales of T-shirts, wristbands and other articles of clothing.
Both Ost and Utterback are college freshmen today, but they were seniors at Puyallup High School when they came up with Sacks of Love.
Ost’s question began the process: What could they do to change the world?
“We talked about a lot of things, and then we talked about cancer,” said Utterback, who attends Western Washington University. “We thought groups had done such a great job of creating awareness for breast cancer.
“We didn’t want to take anything away from them, but we wanted to do the same thing for testicular cancer.”
The most common cancer in young men ages 15-35, it’s easily cured when caught early. The problem, as Ost and Utterback saw it, was that no one talked about it.
“People don’t like talking about testicles,” said Ost, a business major at the University of Portland. “Men are uncomfortable with it. We thought we could use humor to get attention for a serious subject.”
Just the name of the organization made them laugh, but Sacks of Love has 1,882 followers on Facebook and a growing audience on Twitter.
“We thought humor would help break down the stigma,” Utterback said.
From there, the two came up with a logo — a heart housing a pair of testicles — and a variety of marketing ideas.
One was a T-shirt with a squirrel holding an acorn and the message “Saving one nut at a time.”
“We came up with everything from sack races to nuts and bolts images,” Utterback said. “We had a lot of fun but stuck with what we thought worked best.”
They set up information booths at farmers markets and other events, hawking shirts and spreading the word — sometimes more successfully than others.
“We sold one T-shirt at a farmers market, and it was to a friend’s mother,” Utterback said.
In June, they set up a booth in Seattle at a gay pride march.
“We sold $2,000 worth of T-shirts and could have sold $5,000 worth if we’d had that many,” Ost said. “That was the biggest event we’ve had.”
Becoming a nonprofit organization has not been easy. Ost and Utterback relied on an attorney, who happened to be the mother of a friend, to help them get their nonprofit status in Washington state. A former Puyallup High student, Emma Englund, used her pre-law background to guide them through the process of filing for national nonprofit status.
“Emma’s the brains of the outfit,” Ost said.
She was smart enough to wonder if he was serious about the testicular cancer campaign.
“At first I thought it was ridiculous, because Nick is always coming up with crazy ideas for projects or businesses,” Englund said. “But after I saw how enthusiastic people were about Sacks of Love, especially our logo, I realized how much potential this idea had to turn into an actual organization.”
Half of everything they make goes to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Ost said.
The rest is plowed into “more shirts, more merchandise,” he said. “No one in the organization has taken one dollar, and it’s amazing how much it’s grown.”
Ryan Krohn, a marketing major at Western Washington, volunteered and became a vice president.
“I think we have the potential to be a national force for men’s health,” he said. “Our biggest hurdle is getting past the point where only our friends and family support us.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/larue