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September 19, 2016 On the record

On the Record: Wendy Tardif, executive director of the Dempsey Center

Photo / Tim Greenway Wendy Tardif, executive director of the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, said the organization is looking at ways it could expand its network of services for people with cancer.

Wendy Tardif has been executive director of the Dempsey Center in Lewiston for nearly six years and has been involved since its founding in 2008. The organization offers people with cancer a range of services, from cancer education and oncology counseling to massage, yoga and, starting in October, acupuncture. All at no cost.

The organization is based in an 11,000-square-foot site and is affiliated with nearby Central Maine Medical Center. It receives almost half its funding from the annual Dempsey Challenge two-day bicycle ride that this year is scheduled for Oct. 1-2. The Dempsey Center recently changed its name from the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing as part of a rebranding and a long-term plan to expand the reach of the nonprofit. Mainebiz caught up with her by phone to find out more about the changes — and what's ahead. An edited transcript follows.

Mainebiz: Why change the clear Patrick Dempsey connection?

Wendy Tardif: I think people mixed it up more than they got it right. They'd call it the 'Patrick Dempsey Center' or 'Hope and Healing.' After eight years, we felt like the majority of people would recognize us and still know the Patrick Dempsey connection.

MB: You have talked about wanting to engage more communities. How do you envision that happening?

WT: We help people all over Maine, being in Lewiston. The majority come within a 40-mile radius. We want to be more impactful and bring our services to other parts of the state with additional sites.

MB: How would that happen?

WT: We'd go where there's community buy-in. We have a strong presence in southern Maine with people impacted by cancer. We work with anyone impacted. We have people who come here from Bangor, Tenants Harbor, Biddeford.

MB: Do you envision additional brick-and-mortar locations?

WT: We're not sure. We're still working on what the model would look like. It may be with partners. We've made the commitment to replicate the model.

MB: How many people do you work with a year?

WT: It's difficult to measure. We have a lot of direct services where people take advantage of one-on-one services, such as oncology counseling. We also offer nutrition classes, yoga, massage. We had 20,000 contacts last year, but they could be people who visit multiple times. For unique visitors, it would be about 1,200 to 1,500 people a year.

MB: You've been with the organization throughout its existence. What are some of the big changes over that time?

WT: We opened our new site in 11,000 square feet in 2012. The Dempsey Challenge started after the center opened. It remains our primary fundraiser. It raises $1 million, which represents 49% of our revenue. Raising money with the Dempsey Challenge has been a major part of our sustainability. One of our big challenges is to diversify our funding base. It gets scary when we think, 'What if there was another recession?'

MB: What are some ways you could diversify the funding base?

WT: Finding more major donors. We have a manager of the Dempsey Challenge who does some development, but you can imagine the challenge takes up most of her time. We're looking to hire a director of development within the next six months.

MB: What are some of the key services and programs offered by the Dempsey Center?

WT: We've offered massage from the beginning. That's grown. We've added programs like yoga and that's also expanded. We have oncology counseling at no cost. We'll start with acupuncture in October, because that reduces the side effects of chemotherapy. Our services are available to anyone with cancer, at no cost. You do not have to be getting treatment [at CMMC]. I don't know of any other hospital that does that. For the folks who walk through the door, they don't have to think about that. It's based on your personal need, not what your insurance will pay for.

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