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Volunteer Spotlight, Hilary Kissell

Hilary Kissell, Director of Marketing and Community Development for Embold Credit Union, likes to have fun, but most especially in costume!

Hilary has been with Embold Credit Union, a major sponsor for Special Olympics Oregon (SOOR), for seven years. She particularly loves doing the Super Plunge, both for the camaraderie among participants as well as the ability to dress in disguise. She has raised $26,000 for Special Olympics Oregon over the five years she’s been plunging.

“I initially got involved with the regular plunge through Embold,” said Hilary, I’ve been super active with community events and volunteering for different causes since I was in high school. I (discovered) that I really like serving the community. I’ve had a lot of people help me in life. I choose to give back where I can.”

Aaron Goff, President and CEO at Embold Credit Union, challenged Hilary to match her fundraising if she would do the Super Plunge. She was all in. She said participating in events like the Polar Plunge for SOOR makes work feel “more meaningful”.

Her journey is also personal. She has a cousin who had a baby diagnosed with down syndrome at birth, and that baby is now a Special Olympics Oregon athlete. Said Hilary, “I do a lot of what I do with Nora in mind. I feel like what I’m doing will benefit her through the services Special Olympics Oregon provides.”

During Covid, Hilary helped coach some SOOR classes, getting the credit union involved in teaching financial literacy. She said one of her co-workers teaches 4-6 classes a year, and courses include managing finances, budgeting, and the importance of monitoring your financial accounts. They include special guests from the Oregon State Treasury to talk about accounts and share with athletes how to protect their money.

Super Plunge is her passion project, though, and she not only participates but serves on multiple planning committees.

“You know, it’s a really tight-knit community,” she said, “over the past five years, we’ve all become friends. This is an event I look forward to; we get to spend 24 straight hours together. It’s a bonding experience that most people don’t get to do. It’s so much fun – even through what we call the ‘sucky hours’ in the middle of the night, you have friends going through it with you. There is always a point in the night that someone says, “I’m not doing this again!” But then you give it a few days post-event, and we all start planning the next year.

Hilary emphasized that they have become a family, not just during the 24 hours of super plunging, but all year round. “If anyone needs something throughout the year, we are there for each other. We celebrate each other’s wins and successes. It’s great to have a group of people like this to share experiences with.”

Hilary was a bit on the fence for this year, having just completed reconstructive surgery on her ACL. “My surgeon is nervous,” she said, “so I may bring my super soaker!” Last year’s Super Plunge happened to fall on Hilary’s birthday, and she said, “it was the best 24-hour birthday party I could ever ask for!”

As for the costumes, the crazier the better, according to Hilary. “I met Rachel’s (a SOOR athlete and employee) mom the first time when I was dressed like Magnum P.I. She didn’t recognize me when I saw her again at Plane Pull!”

Hilary takes responsibility for making sure the super-plunging crew takes a group photo every hour, on the hour, even when “they don’t feel like it in the middle of the night.” And as for shoe-wear? Hilary said that CROCS are the bomb for Super Plungers!

Hilary loves to see the athletes that compete in the Super Plunge each year too, saying that they have also become friends through her time coaching and doing the Super Plunge. “Libby Goff (Aaron’s daughter and a SOOR athlete) texts me every morning. Rachel Parsons comes to every class to see Aaron and I even if she has been to our classes before. We always run and hug when we see each other. It’s so much fun to see the creativity the athletes put into the Super Plunge,” she said, “and we cheer on the ones that do it from home that can’t be there in person.

The Special Olympics Oregon athletes I’ve gotten to know are some of the best humans I’ve ever met. Everyone deserves to be seen. I appreciate I get to help people feel seen, heard, and respected.”