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Hero Spotlight: Steve Berne

We all have different ideas of what angels might look like – I’ll let you in on a little secret: There’s an angel in Oregon who wears a suit every day and rides a Harley in his free time. Steve Berne, partner with Harris Berne Christensen, came alongside SOOR’s leadership team in the Fall of 2018 to provide much needed pro bono expertise and guidance. What initially was intended to be a few hours here or there turned into a passion project for Steve that had him rolling up his sleeves to provide Special Olympics Oregon with the kind of time, attention, and care I would expect his most prestigious clients received. And, make no mistake – we needed it.

I asked Steve why he embraced our organization in the way that he did. “When I heard the predicament you were in”, Steve said, “I immediately thought it was unacceptable that Oregonians would let Special Olympics die in the very State where Nike was born and grew up, and I knew I had to use my professional skills and connections to help get things turned around.” And that he did. Steve helped us to restore relationships with critical vendors, gain the trust of philanthropists, and stabilize our financial situation. When he wasn’t busy negotiating on our behalf or providing consultation, he was showing up to cheer athletes on at soccer matches and other events.

As Steve and I were reflecting on some of those difficult early days, I asked him what it felt like to finally see our mission regain its footing, with the athletes back to training and competing in the sports they love. “First, seeing the athletes enjoying sports in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them and their families without Special Olympics helped me appreciate how essential this organization is to Oregon as a community. It was never an option to let these athletes and their families down. Second, the amazing philanthropists in Oregon really stepped up in ways that the general public will never know, and that inspired me to see the good in Oregonians, and reminded me that when we pull together as a community we can make really good things happen. My work for Special Olympics was a privilege that benefitted me more than I gave to it.”

Eventually, as we worked our way out of a crisis and into a rebuild, Steve joined our new Finance Committee and again helped us remain stable through another tough blow – Covid 19. In August, Steve let me know that he would need to step away from his commitment to Special Olympics Oregon, as he would be starting his next chapter of giving back – and in no small manner. Steve will eventually be residing in Moscow, but has already started volunteering for his Church by overseeing legal services in 17 Eastern European Countries, which mostly don’t allow the basic freedoms that we take for granted – freedom of speech and religion. I asked him if he had any parting words for the Special Olympics Oregon athletes he came to respect and admire so much. “Even with these difficult times,” Steve shared, “we need to remind ourselves that our lives are filled with blessings that most of humanity has never enjoyed, and much of the world still does not enjoy today. Our current challenges will pass, and things will get better again, and the amazing athletes of Special Olympics will once again be able to enjoy the fun of in person competition and companionship. In the interim, enjoy the opportunities for virtual competition and companionship that we are so lucky to have provided by Special Olympics at this time.”

Steve – on behalf of the athletes, their families, our volunteers, the staff, the board, and the many people in Oregon whose lives you have touched in such a profound way – we thank you from the bottom of our hearts and wish you and your family safety, health, and happiness on your journey. We’ll look forward to seeing you back in Oregon in the Spring of 2022 – and rest assured, you’re always a part of our Special Olympics Oregon family.