Hello Special Olympics Oregon family!
I am ready to get back to high fives, fist bumps, and in-person smiles – how about you? We are sports people – we wake up every morning ready to hit the soccer fields, swimming pools, and basketball courts. We thrive on social interaction and breaking down barriers versus adding more. To see our athletes sidelined because of a global pandemic is crushing for all of us (families, volunteers, staff, Board) who build our lives around cheering for them and ensuring they have a program capable of providing the sports they love, friendships that are important to them, and health and fitness benefits they critically need. That said, I challenge anyone to find a community that is more committed, resilient, passionate, and fiercely loyal than Special Olympics.
I am still holding onto the warm feelings and memories of our recent 2019 Fall season that served 2,000 athletes in soccer, bowling, volleyball, and aquatics and our 2020 Winter season that served another 2,000 athletes in basketball, powerlifting, and snow sports. Our primary concern as we look at how and when to return to play is the safety and well-being of the athletes (click here for the most recent announcements). We are making decisions by following the lead of the Oregon Health Authority and our State officials (and appreciate their collective efforts to contain the virus in Oregon); Special Olympics International, their medical experts, and our counterparts in other Special Olympics state programs; and the CDC. We would be remiss to not offer a big thank you to our local programs, school leaders, dedicated coaches, and athlete leaders around the state for helping our athletes and Unified partners thrive. When it is safe to do so, we will return to play!
Our work has not stopped or even slowed with the curveball of COVID-19. Our staff is working remotely and our board meetings are now virtual. Like everyone, we are learning to adapt to dogs barking in the background, technology hiccups, juggling kids with home-schooling needs, and the loss of in-person human connection. While social isolation is new to many of us, it is all too familiar for many individuals with intellectual disabilities. We work tirelessly to break down barriers and promote inclusion in society, in schools, and on the field of play – the current need for social distancing is devastating for many of our athletes and we take very seriously the role we play in their lives and our responsibility to ensure their well-being.
While we wait to return to sport, we have created SOOR Active, a Facebook group for our athletes and volunteers where participants can engage daily in various health, wellness, and fitness activities which have included meditation; stretching; nutrition and hydration education, and other workouts like Zoomba and dance parties. We have volunteers, corporate partners, and community influencers making guest appearances and many of our athletes and volunteers have taken leadership roles in establishing and hosting much of the programming. These platforms will be evergreen, providing more tools and experiences for our athletes to engage in year ‘round, long after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. Perhaps that is the lemonade to come from the coronavirus lemon.
SOOR also launched a shiny new website on May 1st, thanks to the talented team at Roger That agency. Our website is a critical tool for us to communicate to our many stakeholders and share the incredible stories featuring our athletes, but our previous site had become obsolete, making even the most basic edits challenging or impossible. Jennifer Ruwart, our Hero Spotlight in today’s newsletter, chose Special Olympics Oregon as her passion project for 2020 and took on much of the work pro bono. We are delighted with what she and her team created for us and her talent is only outperformed by her big heart. We will continue to add content and features, but we are excited to share the new www.soor.org with you as another way to stay abreast of our activities!
Finally, I would like to address our financial situation, as it has been at the forefront for the last two years. We have, at times and with the best intentions, been pressed by media or stakeholders to set a specific date for the return to State Games competitions or other programming currently not offered but that is so important to the athletes, their families, and our volunteers. Our staff and Board have maintained our position that while we have made tremendous progress in rebuilding the organization, we need to take a measured and conservative approach to our spending. The progress made to date has been supported significantly by funds from our wonderful group of angel donors. We are working to replace those funds in the future with new, repeatable revenue streams that come from corporate partnerships, grants, donations, events, and support from legislators. We were tracking very well towards building a sustainable revenue model thanks to the wonderful support we have across the state. In addition to retaining and growing our corporate and foundation support, we saw record revenue from the 2020 Polar Plunge events held in 5 communities across Oregon and are so grateful to our Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) community and Young Professionals Council for their dedication, alongside the thousands who braved the chilly waters and/or donated to those who did.
COVID-19 was an unforeseen circumstance that has disrupted those efforts: fundraising events have either been cancelled or are at risk, companies are understandably pushing many marketing and sponsorship decisions out to 2021, and members of our community who provide meaningful support to our organization through donations are grappling with the impact of the pandemic in their lives. We are proactively doing everything possible to minimize the impact to SOOR by turning to virtual fundraising events, applying for emergency funding grants, and talking to donors about their well-being during such a difficult time.
The stress and worries we feel when looking ahead to 2021 are no different from what other nonprofits and small businesses are grappling with, and while I can’t paint a rosy picture, we are – thanks to the generosity of our donor group; support from legislators, companies, foundations, and individuals; and the diligence of our Board and staff – positioned to weather this storm in the short-term. Our windshield is as foggy as everyone else’s and it is difficult to see too far down the road and predict what the impact to our mission delivery and finances will be long-term. What I can see clearly every single day is a team of people that are resilient, innovative, passionate, driven, and dedicated. I can’t recall a meeting when our Board Chair, Ed Ray, hasn’t made the statement that “failure is not an option”; and indeed, it is not.
Britt Oase | Chief Executive Officer
Special Olympics Oregon