Partner Spotlight, Lithia Motors

Lithia Motors, a nationwide automotive dealership group headquartered in Medford, Oregon, is the largest new vehicle dealership group in the nation. They are also one of the largest supporters of Special Olympics Oregon (SOOR). And when it comes SOOR’s annual Polar Plunge series, they dive in headfirst!

Brittany Osterhout, Lithia’s Senior Recruiter for the Northwest Region, has adopted SOOR’s Polar Plunge as a passion project, securing employee recruits to dive into icy cold water to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics Oregon. She loves how competitive the store managers get prior to the plunge itself, and how they all pull together as ‘one team’ in the end.

Said Osterhout, “when I moved to Bend, I saw Polar Plunge posters with our logo on them in different places, but our stores were unaware of (the sponsorship activation). I thought to myself ‘why don’t we have a team? We should be representing Lithia at the plunge!’”

She said she feels she has “the BEST managers here who wanted to get involved. They get competitive; one manager put in an extra $10 in the 11th hour before the plunge to beat another manager in fundraising. It was so cool to see them and how competitive they were. Watching them do the pre-plunge 5k was fun too, as these guys are not really into running. It gave me chills to see our people all running together; we ran as one team.”

One of the biggest motivators, Brittany feels, behind their efforts was to have one of the athletes come speak to their store managers, service providers, and all employees. As she said “the athlete that came to speak to us was so very authentic and real. I said to Britt (Oase, CEO of Special Olympics Oregon) any time you can get the organization in front of you, it’s so much more impactful. I was so proud to see the athlete stand in front of 50 people and present her story, saying what Special Olympics has meant to her.”

Last year was the first year that Lithia has, as Brittany put it, “truly participated, rather than just writing a check” and said “it’s the actual involvement of the stores that really make a difference. When I asked why we weren’t at a deeper level of participation on a call with the Portland market, four store managers immediately reached out after the call, ready to plunge in Portland.”

Brittany feels it really does change perspective on the “why” when you see the athletes. Asked if she is trying to coordinate plunges in every market, she said “there is no ‘try’, we are doing it! We just realized there is a costume theme too. We are all over this. Only one of our groups last year dressed up. This year, we’ll have costumes across each market!”

Chenoa Coviare-Pool is an administrative support manager and handles community relations for Lithia & Driveway in the Northwest Region, and said about supporting Special Olympics Oregon, “we believe in strengthening the communities in which we serve, which includes our communities of those who live with disabilities. It means showing gratitude to those who have helped us grow.”

Last year was Chenoa’s first time participating in the Medford Polar Plunge. She said “I think it’s so fun pulling together a team of employees who don’t always spend that time together. It’s a great bonding experience, further cementing not only the Lithia & Driveway culture, but also in support of a wonderful organization! There is also the anxiety/excitement you get watching the volunteers pour ice into the already freezing pool you will be jumping in at any moment, ha!”

One special memory for Chenoa with Special Olympics Oregon is when she was in high school, getting to know an athlete by being in the choir together. “Not only was he incredible in each of the sports he competed in,” she said, “but he also has a wonderful singing voice! Last year, we were (both) also part of the Polar Plunge Oregon Steering Committee, and it was a joy to be around someone with so many talents, and such strong belief in Special Olympics and the good this organization can do and has done.”