Sunday, March 7, 2021
March 7, 2021

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Vancouver-based Kuni Foundation aids Special Olympics amid virus

Gift helps athletes maintain connections despite isolation

By , Columbian Sports Editor

For most of us, the disappearance of organized sports due to COVID-19 meant the loss of weekend activities or televised entertainment.

For Special Olympics athletes, the loss has been more acute.

“For some of our athletes, this is their only source of friendship,” said Britt Oase, CEO of Special Olympics Oregon. “They identify as a silver-medal bowler, a gold-medal swimmer or a skier.”

The Vancouver-based Kuni Foundation has stepped up to help. Tuesday, the nonprofit announced it will donate $100,000 annually for three years to Special Olympics Oregon.

That money is already being put to good use. Special Olympics Oregon, which involves dozens of people from Southwest Washington, has organized virtual programs to help athletes stay connected and in shape.

Some of the virtual programs are overseen by athletes themselves. Shawn Hinz, a Special Olympics athlete from Benton County, Ore., runs a group on Facebook that helps others connect.

Hinz interviews other Special Olympics athletes about what they do to stay active and healthy. Interactive workouts are shared. So are yoga routines, nutrition tips and how to stay safe through social distancing.

“Society tends to view the disabled by what their deficits are,” said Kuni Foundation Executive Director Angela Hult. “At the foundation, we view them by what their possibilities are. During this pandemic, we can all take lessons from their playbook of resourcefulness and tenacity.”

Established in 2005, the Kuni Foundation was founded by Wayne and Joan Kuni. Joan was a pioneering advocate for those with intellectual disabilities, including her two sons.

Now, the Kuni Foundation helps in two primary areas — cancer research and helping adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 2016, the foundation created a $50 million fund to assist in those areas.

No segment of the economy has been spared from the financial upheaval caused by the coronavirus.

Nonprofits have been hit especially hard. A study released last week by Missouri-based BKD Advisors found 78% of nonprofits have cancelled all or most of their planned events, leading to substantial losses in fundraising and revenue.

“The nonprofit sector is struggling,” Hult said. “For the disability community, it’s even more acute.”

This isn’t the first time the Kuni Foundation has helped Special Olympics Oregon. When Oase moved from Minnesota to take the CEO job in 2018, she found the nonprofit owed $1.5 million to vendors and a $1 million line of credit was in default. There were worries the organization itself could fold.

The nonprofit underwent a drastic restructuring that included layoffs and event cancelations. Nonprofits including the Kuni Foundation, corporate donors and individual philanthropists helped Special Olympics Oregon find its financial footing.

Special Olympics Oregon had started to regrow its footprint. More than 2,000 athletes participated in competitions in both the most recent fall and winter seasons.

Then the virus hit, taking away significant and valuable activities for Special Olympics athletes.

“When the pandemic hit, being apart from each other was something most of us had to figure out,” Oase said. “For many of our athletes, social isolation is something they’ve lived with their entire life.”

Like many of us, Special Olympics athletes are adjusting to a new normal, one that relies much more on remote connections.

That adjustment can be tough. But thanks to a local nonprofit’s generosity, athletes involved with Special Olympics Oregon are getting a socially-distanced hand.


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