AUBURN — Edward Little High School students were told Thursday they were being interviewed about their successful Dempsey Challenge fundraising.

Instead, they got a personal visit from Patrick Dempsey, much to the surprise and delight of two dozen students.

Tish Caldwell of Positive Tracks, which partners with The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, told students she was getting a cardboard cutout of Dempsey, the local boy who turned movie star and established the Dempsey Center to help cancer survivors.

A few seconds later, Dempsey walked in.

“How’s everybody doing!” Dempsey said as students laughed, cheered and laughed some more.

Tongue-tied, they wore nonstop smiles as Dempsey sat down and talked with them.

The students are members of the Positive Tracks Red Eddies, which raises money for the Dempsey Challenge. The students have done so well that they’ve been nominated for a big award at a May 6 event in Boston.

These kids have been rocks stars,” Caldwell told Dempsey. “They fund-raise. They participate. Over the last five years, they’ve raised $50,000 on their own. Because Positive Tracks matches our young people who participate in the Dempsey Challenge, their funds gets matched. So they’ve given back to the Dempsey Center $100,000. They’re the greatest group of kids.”

Dempsey nodded and smiled, clearly impressed. “I want to thank you very much for the impact you’ve made,” he said. “It really does make a big difference.”

He asked them why they get involved. “What is it that draws you to it?” He called on Marisa Carter, a junior. She hesitated, not believing he picked her.

Yes, I’m talking to you,” Dempsey said as everyone laughed.

To give back, she said.

Is it easier when you do it collectively?” he asked. Students said yes. “Then the energy of it feeds on itself,” Dempsey said. “I love it. It’s nice to see everybody engaging. Especially you guys who’ve made a profound impact. What you’re learning now is something I wish I had the opportunity to do when I was younger. It’s what life is about.”

Because the money they raise is matched by Positive Tracks, “it goes to show every cent counts,” said student Lea Violette. When she knocks on doors to sell calendars, “even if they only buy one, that $5 becomes $10.”

Lea Violette, 16, said she used the Dempsey Center services when she had cancer at age 9. “I’ve been cancer-free for five years,” she said as Dempsey and the students applauded.

The PT Red Eddies have toured the center and understand what it’s about, Caldwell said.

That’s nice to see, Dempsey said. “We need more volunteers. We need that energy.” Volunteering could lead to careers in the medical field, he said.

Anything’s possible,” he said. “Believe me, I’ve come from this community. You dream. People say, ‘You can’t ever do that.’ That’s not true.”

When a racer visualizes the course, “it’s proven you will pick up time,” Dempsey said. “The same goes for life. If you visualize where you want to be in life, you can get there. That’s pretty remarkable.”

Dempsey lives in Los Angeles and is working on a couple of movies and projects, he said. “It’s nice to be home and have some time, balancing life out a little bit more. I’m really enjoying life.”

He decided to visit Edward Little after looking at fundraising numbers. “We said, ‘Let’s go and say hi and thank everybody in person.’” The center is successful because of strong support from the community, Dempsey said.

Before he left, he took a selfie on his phone with students.

Michael Gary said he had just finished watching “Grey’s Anatomy,” the show that made Dempsey a household name. “It’s an honor he took part of his day to speak with us,” he said. “He’s a very cool person.”

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