Partner Spotlight, Aaron Goff with Embold Credit Union

Aaron Goff, President/CEO of Embold Credit Union is a long-time supporter of Special Olympics Oregon (SOOR) with a heightened purpose behind his dedication; a daughter with special needs who is a SOOR athlete.

Goff, a 30-year veteran in the credit union industry, started working with Special Olympics Oregon two decades ago through his work at a police credit union. Now president and CEO of Embold Credit Union, he said, Embold is “community based, not for profit, cooperative and very focused on having an impact.” The credit union raises $50-$60,000 annually for SOOR, with approximately a quarter of a million donated since Goff started in his role there.

He moved to Portland just as Special Olympics Oregon was, as he said, “righting the ship and getting things back on track” after a tough period with some internal challenges, followed closely by pandemic closures. “We’re on a better path, getting events going again, seeing a good resurgence,” he said.

Embold Credit Union was the presenting sponsor of Special Olympics Oregon’s Fall fundraiser, Plane Pull, held at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, where teams face off against a 40,000-pound NASA Gulfstream II Shuttle Simulator. Goff’s team, he laughed, “actually moved the plane this year!” After moving it “zero inches” their first year. While he said it’s a ‘fun feeling’ to feel the plane move, it’s “all about fundraising. That’s what I get most excited about,” he said.

Goff’s daughter Olivia is now 20 years old and loves to “soak up the attention” being cheered on while playing sports for SOOR. She has participated in track (“my personal favorite,” said Goff), bowling, basketball, and soccer and was a varsity cheerleader at Clackamas High School as well.

He’s next looking forward to the annual Polar Plunge event series, where participants raise money for SOOR by jumping into freezing cold water along with hundreds of other brave folks. The Portland Polar Plunge is held at Willamette Park every February, and money raised helps provide year-round sports training and competition, as well as leadership, health, and inclusion programs for individuals like Olivia.

Goff’s company has approximately eight super plungers (participants who plunge, in costume, into the river every hour on the hour, for 24 straight hours) and thoroughly enjoys the camaraderie that the Super Plunge offers. As he said “How often do you get to spend time with your co-workers in a tent, eating Chick-fil-A at 3 am, preparing to plunge into freezing water? It’s a ton of fun.”

Olivia has participated in the online super plunge, doing it from home, with outfit changes and all. Goff said, “I got to do nearly 50 plunges last year, 24 with her, and 24 with my super plunge team.”

How important is the work of Special Olympics Oregon to Goff and his family? “I’ve got two stories,” he said. “The first is when I went to elementary school and there was a special needs program. I only knew they were there because they ate lunch at the same time as us. There was no encouragement to speak to them; it was very separate. Olivia is now 20, having just graduated from high school. It was so different for her! She worked at the school store; she participated in integrated P.E. When I walked with her through the school, every student knew her name. Special Olympics Oregon has had as much to do with that as any other program. For 50 years now, they have worked to get these kids celebrated and not squirreled away in a corner somewhere.”

His other story goes back to Rafer Johnson, one of the earliest supporters of Special Olympics. An adviser at the inaugural Special Olympics games in 1968, he was at the time a world-famous athlete, Olympic gold medalist, film actor, and humanitarian. He took a call from Eunice Kennedy Shriver after the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, whom he happened to be with the night of the shooting; a call that changed his life even more. Eunice invited him to the first-ever Special Olympics competition.

“Rafer used to tell a story about working that track meet,” said Goff, “he got to put medals around the necks of the winners. He put one on an athlete who held it up and said, “I won!” The athlete’s mom, tears flooding her face, said ‘those are the first words I’ve ever heard her say.’ They didn’t know she could talk!” continued Goff, “and (similarly) doctors told us Olivia would never speak. And it didn’t happen until she was four. I would jump in a thousand rivers full of ice if I knew this could happen for just one family.”