Aimee Arsenault likes to plan things, and the community is better for it. This coming weekend, a year’s worth of planning and preparation by Arsenault and her team at the Dempsey Center will culminate in the 6th Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston. As the leader of special events and development at the center, her personal challenge pulling the BIG Challenge together is substantial, but the reward is great — and we’re not just talking about spending time with The Man. We’re talking about giving back, helping inspire and support people, and making a difference in a community she loves. Of course, rubbing elbows with The Man doesn’t hurt.

Where do you work? The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing

Title? Manager of Special Events & Development

Married/single/committed? Engaged

Town of residence? Poland

You grew up in Lewiston (a rabid Blue Devil fan) and then went to college in Boston. A lot of young people do that, but then stay “away.” You returned. Why? Growing up I wanted to get out of this area, go to the big city and never come back. But when I actually did move away I realized how much I loved being surrounded by my family and friends, and that I felt a very strong connection to home. I’ve been incredibly happy here in my adult life, and looking back, I actually think it took a lot of strength to come back home. I think there were people who looked down on that decision, but I’ve never regretted it.


What is so special about L-A to you? Practically speaking, I love that we’re centrally located – an hour to the big mountains or 10 minutes to Lost Valley, 15 minutes to the lake or 40 to ocean. And there’s something about that familiarity and the memories that come back when the seasons change — to carry on the traditions of my childhood, like apple picking at Wallingford’s for instance. But beyond that, I just think this community is going through a period of evolution and revitalization that’s really exciting. The energy is changing. New restaurants and businesses and even a brewery and brew festival – it’s really cool. It’s taken some time, but it’s happening.

You lead the team that puts on the Dempsey Challenge every year. What’s the most rewarding part of the job? Oftentimes I hear from participants about how this event has impacted their lives. For so many people, the Dempsey Challenge is a metaphor for the cancer journey – theirs or a loved one’s. One participant said to me that for her husband, who did the 50-mile ride with his ostomy bag mere weeks after completing chemo treatments, crossing the finish line was like saying “You can’t beat me” to cancer. He has since passed, but she continues to participate every year because it is, in her words, “a place where she feels so close to Chris (her husband).” There are many stories like this; I see the emotion at our finish line and I can’t help but be caught up in it. To be able to play a really small part in providing hope or comfort is truly a gift.

What’s the most difficult? Making everyone happy! There are so many different audiences for the event – from participants to volunteers to sponsors to local businesses, the general public, Dempsey Center clients, partner organizations, vendors, etc., etc. Oftentimes there are competing priorities and there are relationships and politics to consider. But it’s been a great lesson in problem-solving and communication.

What’s one thing you wish the public knew about the Challenge that they might not know? We really take feedback to heart and try to improve every year. It takes about a month for post-event wrapup, and then we’re back to work thinking about next year and what we can do better, what we can add or how we can be more efficient. We will always try to raise the bar every year over the last.

When you met Patrick for the first time — star struck? Describe the scene. I don’t know if I would say I was star-struck, but I was definitely nervous! Mostly, I just didn’t want to annoy him, so I tried to play it really cool, like he was just a regular person, and I think I ended up maybe acting a bit too casual, like I couldn’t be bothered, but it’s funny to laugh at now.

Did you save the first email you received from him and put it in the “special stuff” folder? No, but I certainly remember how excited I was the first time I saw an email from him come into my inbox!

Everyone says Patrick is a real nice guy. Down to earth. Easy going. What’s your take? He’s genuine and authentic and he really cares about people. I think that’s what people love about him – we’re all so jaded by tales of these Hollywood celebs who are constantly breaking the law or acting like entitled brats. It’s really refreshing to have someone who is famous but still a really down-to-earth person who cares enough to come home and make a difference.

What has surprised you about the Dempsey Challenge? The dedication of our Local Organizing Committee – a group of about 50 community members who volunteer their time year-round to help plan and execute the event. Three years later, I’m still in awe at how much of their personal free time and energy these people put into the Challenge, many of them with their own families and full-time jobs aside from this. We are really lucky to have such dedicated individuals involved with the event.

You’re sporting a giant diamond on your finger. Rumor is that the big day will take place barely a month before next year’s Dempsey Challenge. Should we rename next autumn The Aimee Arsenault Challenge or is event planning that easy for you? What can I say, I like to live on the edge! Handling a 150-person wedding will be a breeze with four Challenges under my belt (remind me I said that next September!).

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