PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Special Olympics Oregon CEO Britt Oase took the job in June, she knew the organization was in debt. 

She just didn’t know by how much. 

“It was about $2.5 million that we found that we owed,” Oase said. 

That debt — $1.5 million in accounts payable and $1 million on a line of credit – prompted some hard decisions that took Special Olympics Oregon athletes, coaches and volunteers by surprise. Summer, fall and winter statewide games were canceled. Well-known fundraisers, like Bite of Oregon and the Governors’ Gold Awards, were called off as well. 

Oase said she realized that the organization simply couldn’t continue doing business as usual. She said it’s been a “very hard” six months on the job. 

“Having to cancel games and take things away from athletes was not what I expected to be doing,” Oase said. 

Oase says the organization, however, is on its way toward a steadier financial footing. The organization’s lender forgave half of the million dollars owed. An individual refinanced the other half a million, giving Special Olympics Oregon more favorable terms for paying back the amount owed. Oase laid off half the full-time, paid staff working for the organization. And Portland Internetworks, a local IT support company, allowed the non-profit to move into its large offices in NE Portland for six months, rent-free. 

“I don’t know exactly where that point is where it’s, ‘Hey, we made it, we’re out of the woods,’ but I’m optimistic about that,” Oase said. “It’s something I look forward to celebrating with the village of people who have continued to assemble to help us through this.” 

Special Olympics Oregon will be holding its Polar Plunge in February 2019, which Oase said historically been the organization’s largest fundraising event. She said she’s been working with Special Olympics North America to look at other successful fundraisers around the country, to figure out what might work for Oregon. 

“We’re looking at creating some new events that are probably a better [return on investment] and cost-to-benefit ratio,” Oase said. While Oase wouldn’t share details, she said announcements should be coming in early 2019. 

Oase wouldn’t discuss the organization’s current financial state, or how much debt remains, saying that she’ll wait until the 2018 audit is completed next year. (The organization’s 2017 audit was released in October.) While Oase said transparency is an important goal, she said she wasn’t at liberty to discuss private donor commitments, restricted funds, or ongoing conversations with creditors. 

She added, however, that Special Olympics Oregon is creating more financial oversight. Oregon State University president Ed Ray is now board chair; Timbers and Thorns president Mike Golub and former Governor Barbara Roberts are co-chairing a new finance committee. Oase said the organization is also creating a separate audit committee. 

“Everybody wants to have Special Olympics be what it was or better. But we want to do it in a way where it’s not instant gratification and you’re not bringing something back because your heart wants you to,” Oase said. “We want to build it in a way where we know this is going to be around for decades to come and that commitment is shared with our local programs, athletes and coaches.”