LEWISTON — The Dempsey Challenge has registered 300 more participants than this time last July, its fundraising tally is running ahead and the center it supports is on pace to unveil new headquarters during the challenge weekend in October.
"We are hoping to break some records this year," said Aimee Arsenault, Dempsey Challenge event manager. "We had a lot of momentum after last year's event and more and more new folks coming to us and saying we really want to participate, lots more businesses seeming to get involved."
The challenge, in its fourth year, is the main fundraiser for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center. It provides free services to people battling cancer and their families, regardless of where they receive treatment.
In 2011, 3,800 people walked, ran and biked to raise $1.2 million. Participants came from 40 states and six countries. Actor Patrick Dempsey and several professional cyclists headlined the event.
This year's Dempsey Challenge is set for Oct. 13 and 14. Volunteer registration opened Tuesday with 1,000 shifts to fill.
Arsenault said 235 fundraising teams are already active and that fundraising is ahead $10,000 compared to July 2011.
"There was a lot of economic anxiety last year; maybe that's subsided a little bit," she said. "Our goal is wanting to do a little bit better than last year, and if we do a lot better, great."
Arsenault said she's working this year to pull together a Friday night event to kick off the challenge weekend, with potentially an art walk, music and scavenger hunt.
"A lot of big ideas, but really we just want to make it a welcome/community celebration event, both for the folks who are local or in the state but also wanting to showcase the best of Lewiston-Auburn to those folks who are from out of state," she said. "Lower Lisbon Street has really been revitalized the last couple years and we want to take part in that, really show how proud we are to be part of this community and have this event here."
Currently housed in two former physician office suites on the third floor at 10 High St., the Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing had 6,854 contacts in person or by phone in 2009, when it opened, Arsenault said. Last year that almost doubled to 11,488.
A community survey by the center over the winter identified lack of space for meetings and privacy as an issue. In response, the center began a renovation in June 18, remodeling the fifth floor of the former Knapp Shoe Building at 29 Lowell Square, owned by CMMC, into its new space, doubling the center's size.
Workshops and kitchen events that have been held off-site will now fit, as will yoga, massage and art therapy. Construction is slated to wrap up in September.
Wendy Tardif, the center's executive director, said support from the project has come from within the area and beyond. CMMC is providing utilities. Several businesses have donated time or reduced rates.
Arsenault hopes for an Open House during the Dempsey Challenge weekend.
"There's folks who have taken advantage of our services who've never even walked into our current space because it's so small," she said. "The timing has worked out really, really well. So many Dempsey Challenge participants have never been in the Dempsey Center, never seen it. To be able to have a space where we can show them the wonderful work that we're doing is really important to our cause."
Professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer will return to the challenge, joined by Davis and Connie Phinney, retired Olympic cyclists. More announcements are to come.