Dempsey Center volunteer Holly Boom in the “Amanda’s Garden” room at the center in late October. Andrew Rice/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Holly Boom’s hobby turned into a 1,000-hour-per-year volunteering gig.

Boom, a seamstress, uses her hobby to lead a group of women volunteers at the Dempsey Center that sew, crochet and knit various items for cancer patients and their families.

Known as the “comfort group,” the volunteers make quilts for patients in chemotherapy, along with port protectors, pillows, rice bags and more. On any given week, there are about a dozen people that take part in the group. Recently, they’ve back off from meeting every week because they were producing too much.

Boom volunteers at the center three to four afternoons per week — one or two days for sewing, and the others for knitting and crocheting. She said between her time at the center and sewing, knitting and crocheting at home, she averages more than 1,000 hours per year.

At her home in Lisbon, an extra bedroom is dubbed “the Dempsey Room.”

Boom is a 20-year employee of Change Healthcare, a health care information technology company that merged with McKesson in 2017. When she was a McKesson employee, the company offered volunteer grants, which established her relationship with the Dempsey Center. Eight years later, she’s still volunteering.

Back then, she said, the Dempsey Center was looking to start a volunteer comfort group, and her knowledge in sewing made it an easy decision.

“For me, it was a win, win,” she said.

She could raise money for the Dempsey Center by volunteering, and at the same time, she got to see what the products meant to people. She said interacting with patients and their caregivers is what keeps her volunteering.

“There’s no better reward than knowing how you touched somebody, to encourage you to keep doing what you do,” she said.

During the last three years, her work has also hit her personally. Her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and passed after a 17-month battle. As Boom describes it, she’s now seen the Dempsey Center “from both sides.”

Boom was able to see the Dempsey Center’s work up close. She received counseling, massages and other services, “just to help me cope with her battle and all the stresses of helping her through it,” she said.

Earlier in her life, Boom was a state president of the Jaycees civic organization, or Junior Chamber International. Lewiston, and Maine, no longer have chapters, but Boom said the Lewiston chapter used to raise money to put on the annual Liberty Festival.

“I guess volunteering has always been a part of me,” she said.

At the Dempsey Center, Boom said the group is always looking for new members of the Comfort Group. She said many volunteers come in without any previous experience with knitting, sewing or crocheting. So if you have been wanting to learn, it might be the fastest way.

“Most of the volunteers I have right now came in not knowing how to sew at all,” she said.

Recently, Change Healthcare gave Boom its first annual Community Giving Award, which includes a $1,000 donation to the Dempsey Center in support of the organization’s work.

Michelle Small, the Dempsey Center volunteer coordinator, said of Boom: “Her positive attitude and ingenuity serves the Dempsey Center well. She truly and whole-heartedly makes life better for people living with cancer.”

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.


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