For over 20 years, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union has partnered with Special Olympics Minnesota to promote inclusion throughout the state. The banking institution was founded on the belief that every person should have the opportunity to thrive financially and chase their dreams. “Inclusion has always been an important part of the credit union mindset,” said Dave Larson, President and CEO of Affinity Plus.

With the goal of helping underserved populations, Affinity Plus started in the basement of the state capitol during the Great Depression in 1930. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law in 1934, making a national system of cooperative credit unions so more people could receive financial assistance. “We started with 12 members and now we serve over 265,000 people in Minnesota and around the country,” said Larson. “As a low-income designated financial institution, over 50% of the people we serve are low-to-moderate income, so financial inclusion is something we value.”

Beyond their aspirations in making banking more equitable, Affinity Plus has used their partnership with Special Olympics Minnesota to impact every aspect of the lives of people with disabilities. “Our partnership with Affinity Plus allows our programs to grow and our athletes to thrive,” said Sarah Lee, Senior Corporate Relations Manager at SOMN. “Whether it be through volunteering at events, Plunging, sponsoring college campus Plunges, supporting golf events, highlighting athletes at collegiate events, or participating in unique fundraising campaigns, their team does it all. Our partnership with Affinity Plus is second to none.”

One of the biggest ways Affinity Plus has supported SOMN is through their Polar Plunge kickstarter promotion, which encouraged more new people to take the Plunge. For the past four years, they have worked with Fox 9 to offer a $50 donation to anyone who used the Affinity Plus promo code. The first year they offered the code was in 2021, just as people were coming out of the pandemic. Then it really took off in 2022 when Affinity Plus set a goal of 1,000 promo code uses. “I thought we might get 10,” remembered Adam Layne, Senior Community Engagement Specialist at Affinity Plus. “Then we saw that number jump to 1,000 in the blink of an eye and I went to Dave asking if we could get a little more money because this thing is pretty popular. He said ‘Absolutely, you do what you need to do,’ and we saw 2,200 uses of the code that year.”

The people who used the Affinity Plus kickstarter promotion went on to raise around $785,000 that year. “It was the first time I’ve seen a company willing to do what it takes to make it work. It was really exciting to see the long-term impact that promo code turned into,” said Layne. Since then, Affinity Plus has continued to encourage first-time Plungers, and the money raised through their promotion is well over $2.3 million. 

Larson’s motivation to “do what it takes” for Special Olympics Minnesota originates in his personal experiences with the organization. In 2003, he had a coworker with a passion for Special Olympics who sent out a note asking for someone to volunteer as an announcer at a figure skating competition. “I thought that sounded like fun, so I went—and I was completely blown away,” recalled Larson. “The energy, the skill, the camaraderie and the joy. It was that experience where I said to myself, no matter what I do with Special Olympics, I will always feel better after than I did going into it.”

In 2007, Larson’s mother died of cancer. She had spent her whole career working as an educator with children who had intellectual disabilities. “There were children in the school system that people swore would never read, but my mom believed she could get anyone to read. It was her mission in life,” said Larson. After her death, Larson started to volunteer with SOMN more, and when he became CEO of Affinity Plus, the relationship between the two organizations grew exponentially.

Larson credits his employees Adam Layne, Senior Community Engagement Specialist, and Amber Shanley, Director of Branch Services at Affinity Plus, for getting the company’s involvement with Special Olympics to an all-time high in 2024. Shanley works with college campuses around Minnesota to promote the Polar Plunge and Special Olympics Minnesota. She directs local Affinity Plus branches in how to attract new plungers through local media. “Telling the story of the partnership draws people to Affinity Plus and raises awareness for Special Olympics,” said Shanley. “Seeing it in real life is just electric. We love sharing what Special Olympics does for these athletes on college campuses where students are looking for ways to make an impact.”

College is where Layne was first introduced to Special Olympics. He was required to do public service through the university he attended and ended up at a regional bowling event near his Wisconsin school. “My first Special Olympics event wasn’t what I imagined it would be,” recalled Layne. “Athletes came in looking like pro bowlers, and they were kind enough to invite me to bowl with them. My wife can attest to the fact that I’m a terrible bowler, and the trash talk that the athletes dished out to me was the most fun part about it. Interacting with athletes at events are what I love most still to this day.”

Larson also loves interacting with athletes, and he had the honor of leading 147 of them during opening ceremonies at the 2022 USA Games in Orlando, Florida. “Looking out at all those athletes with their energy, excitement and joy was incredible,” said Larson. In 2026, Affinity Plus employees will be major supporters of Minnesota’s biggest Special Olympics event yet: USA Games, which will be held in the Twin Cities. “I believe it will be an experience our employees and members will never forget,” said Larson.

The collaboration between Affinity Plus and Special Olympics Minnesota shows the immense power of what two companies with aligned values can do. Whether it be in finances, athletics, health or life in general, the inclusion revolution is growing thanks to partnerships like these.

“I always tell people that Special Olympics Minnesota was a champion of inclusion before anyone was talking about inclusion,” said Larson. “If we could get everyone aligned with the movement of Special Olympics, we would all be much better off.”