SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — August is winding to an end, which means the 14th annual Dempsey Challenge is right around the corner — exactly a month away. Every year, this event raises money through biking, running, and walking to help The Dempsey Center continue to provide its services to people affected by cancer, free of charge.
This year, those services seem to be in higher demand than usual. Cara Valentino, the CEO and president of The Dempsey Center as of November 2021, says they have seen a "huge rise" in the number of people visiting the center. In 2021, they had about 1,500 clients total. As of July 31 this year, that number was already up to 1,400 clients. Valentino says she expects they will double 2021's numbers by the end of 2022.
"My goal and the goal of The Dempsey Center, and the goal of our founder Patrick, is that we can touch the lives of everyone in Maine who has been impacted by cancer," Valentino said, noting the center serves not only cancer patients — but also their care partners, family members, and friends.
"Illness is a shared experience," Valentino said. "You can’t watch someone you love suffer with an illness without also being deeply affected."
Valentino says to help expand the center's reach, she and her team have created a greater presence online through Dempsey Connects, connected with like-minded nonprofits, and conducted a "listening tour" in all of Maine's 16 counties to learn more about needs. She says right now, services range from counseling and nutrition consultations to movement classes and workshops to massages and wig styling.
"My vision is to meet people where they are in terms of their cancer impact," Valentino said.
For former client Ruth Hennig, that time came in 2019 when she was looking for a support group after her cancer treatment had ended.
"It’s over! Your treatment’s over. So, now what do you do?" Hennig said. "It’s like all of a sudden, you’re on that tight rope — but there’s no net underneath you."
Hennig had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 for the second time. She says finding The Dempsey Center a year later post-treatment allowed her to get back to her normal life once again. Then, she wanted to return the favor by volunteering.
"I just instinctively felt like I need to give back somehow. I need to pay forward and help other new clients at The Dempsey Center move through their journey," Hennig said.
In 2021, The Dempsey Center raised $1.5 million through its Dempsey Challenge. This year, organizers are shooting even higher — to $1.6 million.
"With these donations, we’re able to provide all of our services at no cost," Katelynn Davis, the marketing and communications manager at the center, said. "When we say no cost, we mean no cost. We don’t look at insurance. We don’t do any sort of financial survey. Everything is no cost no matter who you are."
You can learn more about The Dempsey Center and Challenge here.