LEWISTON — More than a month after the Dempsey Challenge’s signature event, organizers are celebrating a milestone fundraising achievement.

The Dempsey Challenge met its ambitious fundraising goal of $1.5 million last month, raising $200,000 more than any previous year despite having nearly half as many participants as pre-pandemic years.

Participants had already raised a record $1.3 million by challenge weekend. Additional fundraising, matching donations from corporations and a virtual event, however, helped push the Dempsey Challenge past its fundraising goal, Events Manager Deneka Deletetsky said.

“It feels absolutely incredible,” she said, “and I’m just amazed and astounded at the level of support that the Dempsey Center receives not only here locally, but outside the borders of Maine and even internationally.”

The Dempsey Challenge is the primary fundraiser for the Dempsey Center, a nonprofit organization based in Lewiston and South Portland that provides no-cost services, such as fitness classes, massages and counseling, to cancer patients and their families.

After several years of raising $1.2 million, organizers decided to set $1.5 million as their 2020 goal. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The in-person event was replaced with virtual programming, and many of the Dempsey Center’s services were offered online under the new Dempsey Connect program.

For the first time since it opened in 2008, the Dempsey Center began providing services to people outside of Maine.

Deletetsky said she believes combining in-person and virtual programming was key to the Dempsey Challenge’s success this year.

“Ultimately, it didn’t matter where you lived, whether or not you were in Maine or if you are outside the borders of Maine,” she said. “Your fundraising could now directly impact someone you were either related to or were friends with that had a cancer impact (because of Dempsey Connects).”

Eighty participants raised $3,000 or more for the center, more than any previous Dempsey Challenge, according to Deletetsky. Some of these fundraisers were virtual participants who live outside of Maine.

Additionally, organizers held a virtual event Oct. 23 in partnership with Zwift. Participants rode alongside Patrick Dempsey, the center’s famous founder, in a virtual world using stationary bicycles. Deletetsky said this event raised more than $50,000 for the Dempsey Challenge.

All of the $1.5 million will go to the Dempsey Center as donations from corporate sponsors pay for the events, Deletetsky said.

At the 2021 Dempsey Challenge, Dempsey announced the center was talking with a nonprofit organization about creating a second Dempsey Challenge event in Dublin, Ireland. Deletetsky said the additional event has not been finalized, and she is not sure whether it could begin next year.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I will say this: Anything is possible.”

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