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This week’s edition!

Maine traffic rebounds faster than expected

Jennifer Brickett, Director of Planning for the Maine Department of Transportation, speaks to members of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce at Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport last week. Brickett talked about the improved flow of traffic in Maine in recent weeks, and how the MDOT is dealing with loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chamber members sat in or beside their cars on the tarmac of the airport to remain socially-distanced during Brickett’s talk. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

AUBURN – With Maine COVID-19 pandemic restrictions easing, traffic volume statewide has “rebounded quicker than we actually expected,” according to Jennifer Brickett, Director of the Bureau of Planning for the Maine Department of Transportation.

In March, when the first stay-at-home orders were issued by the state, traffic volume dropped to about the half the level from last year, Brickett said. Inbound traffic at airports fell to just a quarter of the numbers from 2019.

Last week, traffic volume statewide was only down 9.5% from the same week last year, “So this indicates a slow return to normal highway travel,” Brickett said. Airport traffic has been slower to recover, remaining down by about 65% from 2019 levels.

“We’re seeing other challenges,” with passenger train travel and other public transportation down by about 80%, she said.

Brickett spoke last week to members of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce at their monthly meeting, which took place in one of the hangars at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. Chamber members stayed at or near their cars on the tarmac in front of the hangar, or attended virtually over the internet.

The Maine Department of Transportation manages a multi-modal system of transportation, including roads, bridges, airports, water ports, freight rail, and public transportation, along with walking and cycling. The Bureau of Planning works on planning for systems that connect people to their destinations and moves freight throughout Maine, around the country, “and really, around the world,” Brickett said.

Speaking on a theme of “Making it to Market”, Brickett said that “at the Bureau, we understand that a well-functioning transportation system is really critical to economic development and quality of life.”. In order to plan for this system, the Bureau of Planning focusses on relationships with companies throughout Maine to determine their needs and plan for economic development opportunities that will help develop critical infrastructure for the state.

The Maine DOT is “really operating under what we’re calling Business Unusual,” with most of the office workers working from home. “In general, our whole system has been impacted by COVID-19,” she said.

“On a positive note, as the result of slower traffic and more competitive contractor pricing, we were actually able to add some projects this year,” Brickett said. “And we continue to deliver all of our planned work . . . which has really been a bright spot in this time, environment, and economy.”

However, with the lower number of vehicles on the roads, highway funding “has taken a hit” with revenues down about $40 million for the current fiscal year that runs through June 2021, Brickett said. Revenue for the following fiscal year is expected to be down by about $30 million, making this “the most sudden drop in highway funds revenue in memory.”

Aviation revenue is also expected to be down significantly with the loss of passenger traffic and aviation fuel taxes, she said.

The Maine DOT is working on a plan to address the funding shortfall and “was fortunate to get the July bond, which helps compensate for some our income loss,” Brickett said. The department will need additional funding, and the most likely options right now are federal funding and bonds.

The department is looking at ways to save money, perhaps by cutting back on planned work on less-traveled roadways, she said. “At the same time, we need to invest in areas that are redeveloping and where people are moving.”

Surrounding the airport are a number of trucking companies and railroad facilities. These businesses “are the backbone to our state’s economy. They enable the movement of millions of tons of freight every year, traveling by road, over railroad tracks and by airports,” Brickett said. While airport passenger travel is reduced, the airports themselves are critical for the transport of freight and perishable goods, such as seafood.

“This region is really a great example of a multi-model system that moves and transports goods, and supports the economy, both regionally, throughout the state, and the international markets,” she said.

 The Lewiston-Auburn area is close to interstate 95, which provides quick access to the Walmart distribution center, she said. The good highway system makes the area a “gateway to western Maine.”

The department also has an Industrial Rail Access Program that is focused on economic development and rail opportunities, and has worked with several businesses in the area over the years.

The Maine DOT recently started development of a three-year workplan for projects across the state.

Brickett oversees statewide planning for freight and passenger services, including aviation and transportation system analysis. She previously worked as the Maine DOT planner for southern Maine, and before that was with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in Washington, DC, where she worked on national transportation policy issues.

“This is ME Counting on You”

Public awareness campaign promotes pandemic safety

Sandy Buchanan of Western Maine Transportation Services places a “This is ME Counting on You” floor sticker on a passenger van at last week’s event. (Photo courtesy of Maine State Chamber)

From Maine State C of C

AUBURN – Last week, “This is ME Counting on You” floor stickers and other resources were placed on local public buses and vans, as well as buses and vans that connect with Brunswick, Bethel, Carrabassett Valley, Farmington, Oxford County and more.

Western Maine Transportation Services (WMTS) and citylink/Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee joined the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce at the Downtown Auburn Transportation Center on Thursday as part of  the “This is ME Counting on You” public awareness campaign.

Initiated by the Maine State Chamber in May, the campaign encourages Mainers and visitors to do their part to stop the spread or a resurgence of COVID-19.

Representatives at the event, including Lewiston and Auburn city officials, discussed increased public transportation safety measures and the importance of following recommended health and safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, on public transit. Altogether, these protocols will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading or resurging, keeping Mainers healthy and ensuring Maine’s economy continues to recover.

“We are pleased to be here with Western Maine Transportation Services and citylink to help spread the word that they, like other businesses and organizations across Maine, take very seriously their role in keeping their patrons, employees, and communities safe, now more than ever,” said Dana Connors, president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “We hope ‘This is ME Counting on You’ helps remind their riders that every individual has an important role to play in defeating COVID-19 and preventing a resurgence. We are counting on each other to be safe and responsible. Together, we can make sure Maine people and our communities stay safe and healthy, so Maine can get back to business and our economy can continue on a path toward a strong recovery.”

Sandy Buchanan, General Manager and Director of Operations for WMTS said, “WMTS public transit connects riders from Sugarloaf and Sunday River to Brunswick and many points in between. Our riders rely on us to safely get to work, school, and fulfill many of their essential needs. We are extra committed to keeping our passengers protected from COVID-19, and to protecting our frontline staff so they can be there for you. Please help by doing your part in the ‘This is ME Counting on You’ campaign. Mask up, social distance and limit interactions with the driver and other passengers, so we can continue to provide you the transportation you depend on and keep all of the communities we serve safe and healthy.”

Denis D’Auteuil, Lewiston’s City Administrator, welcomed the collaborative approach, saying, “This has been a tough time in communities nationwide, and, locally, we embrace the ‘This is ME Counting On You’ campaign. We want public transit users to be safe as they conduct their daily activities, and if we can count on each other to practice public transportation safety measures, we are all going to benefit. Masking up, social distancing, and following safety guidelines make sense for our transit users and for the community as a whole.”

Phil Crowell, Auburn City Manager, added, “The ‘This is ME Counting on You’ campaign is what the people of Auburn have been doing for over 150 years – counting on one another. It makes us stronger, safer, more united. The City of Auburn is proud to do our part to help support local businesses as well as residents and visitors. We need you to do your part. We’re counting on you.”

LA Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shanna Cox said, “One of the chief concerns among businesses in our region is their workforce – finding and retaining employees while keeping them healthy so operations can continue uninterrupted. The resources of this campaign – and the message – throughout our public transportation system highlights the direct and important link between healthy transportation options and a healthy workforce. All are required for healthy economy.”

Businesses and organizations across Maine are using free “This ME Counting on You” resources in their workplaces as reminders to practice social distancing, wear masks, and more. Resources available on the initiative’s website at: www.mecountingonyou.org  include printable posters, along with multiple versions of a “Thank You” card for businesses to give to customers and visitors thanking them for being safe and responsible. Floor stickers are available upon request. The campaign’s public service announcement is airing on Maine Public and cable television stations across Maine. The initiative is also on Facebook with the hashtag #MECountingOnYou.

The Maine State Chamber is working with its members, local and regional chambers of commerce including the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and organizations throughout Maine to spread the “This is ME Counting on You” message and share the initiative’s resources.

For more information about “This ME Counting on You” visit www.MeCountingOnYou.org. For more information about WMTS, visit www.wmtsbus.org. For more information about citylink/Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee, visit www.avcog.org/877/citylink. 

Chamber advocates for access to COVID-19 testing

From LAMCC

LEWISTON – More than 60 businesses have signed the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s position statement of Access to Testing and Timely Results, joining the Chamber’s over 700 members and the full Lewiston Auburn Legislative Delegation.

The Chamber is advocating for access to COVID-19 testing and timely results. Requests from area businesses came for the Chamber to take a formal position; and were reviewed by their Business Advocacy Committee and board. This position statement addresses an issue key to the area’s workforce and economy- when employees are isolated while waiting for test results for upwards of 8 days, it limits business operations and holds back the economy.

“Our members put the safety of their staff and customers first, and recognize the significant steps the State of Maine has taken to ensure the public health response keeps people safe. The leadership of Maine CDC, Maine DECD, and Maine DHHS, along with the sacrifice of business owners and Maine residents have kept our positive case counts low, our test positivity rate low, and our people safe”, says Shanna Cox, President and CEO of the Chamber. “Businesses are greatly concerned with access to testing and timely results as they prepare for the cold and flu season.”

With cold and flu symptoms overlapping with Covid-19 symptoms, symptomatic employees must remain home. Timely negative test results can help employees return to work sooner, and keep operations running smoothly. The LA Metro Chamber identifies three actions the State must continue to prioritize to ensure employers can manage their workforce for safety and keep their doors open, which are vital to the LA region, state economy, and quality of life.

“Our employees and business have been severely impacted by COVID-19 and inconsistencies with testing. Throughout this pandemic, we have had 3 of our 32 employees test positive for COVID-19, which resulted in 21 employees being quarantined so far. By diligently following the CDC guidelines our employee wellness screening has resulted in the Credit Union encouraging employees with symptoms to stay home and seek testing. Some employees get their results back in less than 24 hours while others wait for 7 days, even when they go to the same testing site,” said  Community Credit Union President and CEO Jen Hogan.

“This is very stressful for the employee affected as well as for our entire team. Delays in test results have caused our staff to feel overwhelmed with worry, anticipating their results and how they may have potentially exposed their families, friends, coworkers and anyone they may have interacted with,” Hogan said. “All of these challenges have resulted in several short-term staffing shortages leading to the temporary closure of locations or limiting of services to our members. This has been really hard for our organization and my heart goes out to all of my employees and other businesses that are doing their best to safely navigate this pandemic.”

Cox said the Chamber and businesses ask that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, with Governor Mills’ Administration, Continues to expand access to free testing by increasing the reimbursement rate for administration of Swab and Send sites, allowing for expanded hours and locations for test sites that administer free tests and utilize the State lab for processing.

The Chamber also wants the state to improve the consistency and shorten the length of time for accurate results by continuing to expand capacity at State laboratories, investing in proven and emerging testing methods and supplies that provide results in 48 hours or less.

And the Chamber asks that the state continues to prioritize the testing access and timely results for employers and their workforce by seeking innovative solutions with Maine manufacturers, biotech companies, healthcare systems, and employers.

“The Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and our members appreciate the efforts to date, and stand ready as partners to seek workable solutions that ensure employers can balance safety with financial sustainability,” Cox said.

Anniversary Park dedicated

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) (second from left) with Auburn municipal leaders in front of the St. Louis Bell Tower at the dedication of Anniversary Park in Auburn on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Senator Collins)

From Senator Collins

AUBURN – Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) attended the grand opening and dedication ceremony for Anniversary Park and the St. Louis Bell Tower in Auburn last Saturday.

During the event, Senator Collins delivered remarks and participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Bell Tower. Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, municipal leaders, local business owners, residents, and city staff were also at the ceremony.  

 “The combination of traditional values and progress is evident throughout Auburn. The campaign to build this beautiful bell tower was generously supported by local individuals and businesses,” said Senator Collins. “The vision of the city’s leaders and its citizens is revitalizing New Auburn Village Center, and Anniversary Park is the centerpiece of the entire redevelopment plan. The federal Opportunity Zones initiative I supported as part of the 2017 tax reform law will boost the private investment that is crucial to this renaissance.”

 New Auburn is part of an Opportunity Zone, which were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to help revitalize and encourage long-term investments in underdeveloped communities.

Additionally, Senator Collins worked with the City of Auburn to secure more than $246,000 in Northern Border Regional Commission funds to help build the infrastructure serving the businesses and residents around the park.

 Formerly known as Little Androscoggin “Andy” Park, the park was renamed “Anniversary Park” in recognition of the City’s 150th anniversary in 2019.

The redesigned park is part of a broader $3.5 million revitalization project along the waterfront in an area known as New Auburn. The project also included the construction of the Bell Tower, which is now the second tallest monument in Maine. For nearly a century, the bells served the community in the tower of the landmark St. Louis Church before being installed in the new Bell Tower.

The bells were cast in the world-famous Paccard Bell Foundry of Annecy, France, and arrived in Auburn in October 1916. The St. Louis Church opened in 1915 and closed after a final mass in 2013. An investment group purchased the building in 2014, but failed to find another use for the building and turned the church over to the City of Auburn in foreclosure in early 2019.

Top fundraiser for 2020 Dempsey Challenge

Patrick Dempsey takes part in the virtual Dempsey Challenge ride to raise funds for the Dempsey Center that he helped start, while Deneka Deletetsky and Mel Blakely handle streaming and social media. Hanging on the wall is a portrait of Dempsey with his mother, Amanda, who’s bouts with cancer led him to create the Dempsey Challenge in 2009. His mother died from complications of cancer in 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Dempsey Center)

By Nathan Tsukroff

Dennis Richardson of Turner reached his fundraising goal for the Dempsey Challenge, wearing tutus and a tiara on his ride to celebrate. But he didn’t collect as much as David Gervais of Lewiston, who brought in $21,528 for the Challenge.

They call him “Top Dollar Dave”, and he’s earned the title by being one of the top individual fundraisers since the Dempsey Challenge began in 2009.

Ever since he reached adulthood, Gervais has been fundraising for one worthy group or another.

For the past years, he has concentrated on raising money for the Dempsey Challenge, to help the Dempsey Center at its locations in Lewiston and South Portland. He was the top individual fundraiser for this year when the Challenge fundraising officially ended last week.

For the first time, the Challenge had set a fundraising goal, at $1.5M. When the clock was stopped at a minute before midnight on Sept. 30, the Challenge had raised $1,195,494 against that goal.

Gervais had a big hand in reaching that final amount, raising more money than anyone else through old-fashioned direct-mail pieces..

Next in line with fundraising was Travis McKenzie at $21,409 as the team captain of the Musette Restaurant team, which raised a total of $42,366 for the Dempsey Challenge.

Kathy Seymour Dettmann raised $17,776 as team captain of the Ann’s Purple Pugs team, which raised a total of $20,923.

Dennis Richardson of Turner, a childhood friend of Patrick Dempsey, raised $15,605 as team captain of the Be The Miracle team, that raised a total of $53,551. Richardson had been challenged by his wife, Lori, to wear pink and purple tutus on his personal ride if he surpassed their goal of raising at least $15,000. Twin City Times publisher Laurie Steele made a last-minute donation to push Richardson to his goal so he would have to wear the tutus.

The Dempsey center provides services for free to its clients dealing with the impact of cancer, so fundraising is vital to its mission of care.

That mission took a sharp turn earlier this year as the Center closed its doors through at least the end of December and transitioned to virtual services.

Then came the challenge of raising the funds to pay for those services, all without allowing the traditional crowds of people at fundraising events. So the Dempsey Challenge for 2020 featured online events through the Zwift platform, an online training app for running and cycling. Events included virtual 10-, 25-, 45- and 60-mile rides. Cyclists shared individual rides on Strava, another virtual training app for runners and cyclists

Gervais mailed out well over 1,000 letters to donors, receiving back checks “for $5, $25, and up to $100,” said Tish Caldwell from the Dempsey Center. “That’s how he does his fundraising!” Over the years, Gervais has helped raise more than $160,000 for the Center.

Gervais was born and raised in Lewiston, and works in the kitchen at the student center at Bates College in Lewiston. With his fundraising for the Dempsey Challenge, “He’s giving back to an organization that’s right here in his hometown,” Caldwell said. “I think he truly feels the connection and the love that he so well deserves.”

“It was tough for him this year,” because everything was virtual, she said. Gervais did a 10-mile bicycle ride with his sister, as well as running. He has ridden with Patrick Dempsey in past years. “Every year he gets to connect and see Patrick,” Caldwell said.

Gervais’ sister created an Instagram account for him over the Dempsey Challenge weekend so he could post photographs from his ride.


Dennis Richardson travels across Bailey Island Cribstone Bridge on his way from Brunswick to Bailey Island during his 100-mile personal ride on Sept. 27 as part of the annual Dempsey Challenge to raise money for the Dempsey Center in Lewiston and South Portland. Laurie Steele, publisher of the Twin City Times, made a final donation just days before Richardson’s ride to push him to his $15,000 fundraising goal that saw him wearing pink and purple tutus along with a pink tiara. (Beth Comeau photo)

While the Challenge did not reach its goal, it actually reached the approximate dollar amount raised in previous years. “For this year, we thought, let’s just go for $1.5M . . . then COVID kicked in!” Caldwell said. The development team at the Center had hoped that setting a goal this year would increase fundraising from previous years.

Amgen has been the presenting sponsor for the Dempsey Challenge since its inception in 2009.

Dempsey Center services virtual during pandemic

By Nathan Tsukroff

The Dempsey Center has seen major changes in how it provides support and other services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quickly pivoting as the pandemic required extra caution for immuno-compromised patients, the Dempsey Center added a virtual third center, Dempsey Connects, to ensure continuity of services that could not be accessed in person at the Lewiston and South Portland buildings.

“Like businesses and nonprofits across the state and country, we’ve had to adapt to preserve our mission,” said Dempsey Center Executive Director Wendy Tardif. “We’ve seized opportunities, like building out Dempsey Connects, and made very difficult decisions related to the budget. Through all of the change, our clients remain our top priority and we are confident this plan will ensure that we continue to provide the services they count on.”

Founded in 2008 by Patrick Dempsey, Dempsey Center traditionally offers in-person workshops, counseling, support groups, fitness, massage, acupuncture and additional quality of life care in their Lewiston and South Portland centers. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Center was serving roughly 1,000 clients and quickly transitioned online through the virtual center. All services are provided at no cost to anyone impacted by cancer, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances or where they receive their medical treatment.

Dempsey Center leadership initially included the creation of a virtual center in the organization’s three-year strategic plan to better serve the needs of all Maine people impacted by cancer. The response to COVID-19 accelerated the project. While the Center had hoped to begin offering some in-person services this fall, a decision was made to keep doors closed through the new year, based on CDC guidance, client feedback, and best practices in health care.

“We’re kind of putting pause on bringing clients back into the center,” Tardif said, with plans to reassess the situation quarterly to determine the safety for the clients it serves when opening up the Center again. The Center will look at “what’s different from four months ago, and what will be different four months from now.”

“Our clients are people who are currently in treatment, or people who have completed their treatment,” she said. With caregivers assisting many of their clients, the Center wants to ensure that clients and staff remain as a safe as possible through the pandemic. “There’s just a lot of risks that we need to be taking into consideration.”

While most services have been duplicated with the Virtual Center, two services are simply not possible – therapeutic massage and acupuncture, Tardif said. Both services are offered to clients “to help them mitigate their symptoms from their cancer treatment.”

Instead, the Center is “trying to provide educational programs virtually to help people help themselves, or empower people to help themselves,” she said. “So we’re doing some classes such as acupressure, and self massage . . . teaching people how they can help themselves minimize their symptoms that they’re getting from their cancer treatment.” The Center is looking to address the body pain or neuropathy (numbness or tingling of hands or feet) clients experience as a result of cancer.

The Center staff teaches the virtual classes, transitioning from the traditional in-person classes they conducted before the pandemic. “Our staff is doing everything, all of our classes,” Tardif said.

As the pandemic restrictions have continued, “we are starting to do some educational programs bringing in outside presenters,” she said. “We have a financial panel program that’s coming up that is community people helping folks to understand the financial implications of a cancer diagnosis” and ways for them to deal with the issues around loss of income and increased medical bills.

The Center’s virtual classes are presented live through the Zoom platform, and include fitness and movement classes, like yoga and tai-chi, and cooking classes. Some one-on-one services, provided on a different platform, include individual fitness consultations, individual nutrition consultations, and individual counseling for Maine residents impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

Support groups now meet through Zoom, Tardif said.

Addressing the loss of personal contact under the pandemic restrictions was important to the Center, and “we’re providing a very, very high-touch service” to clients by making one-on-one caring calls to clients to learn about their needs and how the Center can help them, Tardif said. “We’re walking them through step-by-step how they can get connected to any of our service that we are offering virtually . . . so we’re doing everything we can to really support people that have been impacted by cancer.”

Tardif said that, as the pandemic restrictions took effect, the Center’s staff “just really dug in and just really figured out how to make this work for the people we serve . . . you’re not going to find a more passionate group!”

Staff members are always looking for new ways to provide services for clients, including finding new topics to offer online. “It’s so interesting to me to see just how resourceful they are, and just committed to making sure that we are still providing very much needed services to people impacted by cancer, to help them make their lives better,” she said.

Local cyclist raises $15,000 for Dempsey Challenge

And rides with pink and purple tutus and a pink tiara

By Nathan Tsukroff

LEWISTON – Last year it was a pink tutu. This year it’s a pink tutu, a purple tutu, and a pink tiara.

Dennis Richardson of Turner was out to embarrass himself again this year for the Dempsey Challenge, riding his bike to help raise money for the Dempsey Center in Lewiston in support of cancer patients and survivors.

Dennis Richardson sports the pink tiara and purple and pink tutus he wore during his 100-mile ride on Sunday during the Dempsey Challenge. Richardson’s wife, Lori, had made him promise to wear the tutus and tiara if their Be the Miracle fundraising team reached the $15,000 mark before the end of the day last Saturday. (Tsukroff photo)

Last Friday, he reached his local goal of $15,000 for the Be the Miracle team he put together this year along with his wife, Lori, to raise money for the Challenge, “because Cancer doesn’t stop because of COVID.” He planned to wear a pink tutu on part of his ride to represent the fight against breast cancer, and a purple tutu to represent the fight against pancreatic cancer. The pink tiara he was to wear on his helmet was a donation from a person in New Jersey.

Patrick Dempsey and Richardson “grew up as best friends, from the time we were little kids, like four years old. And then I worked for his father in the family business, with Patrick,” Richardson said. “So we’ve always been very close.”

Richards, Dempsey and Richardson’s older brother, Eric, all worked for the bottle return business run by Dempsey’s father in Turner, ME.

“In 2014, he challenged me to quit smoking,” Richardson said. “It was a challenge to quit smoking, get healthy, (and) ride with him in the Dempsey Challenge.” Richardson started training in March of that year, riding some 2,000 practice miles and dropping 44 pounds. He finished his 50-mile ride in the Challenge in 3 hours and 16 minutes, and raised a combined $7500 with his 8-person team that year.

Every year since then, Dempsey has sent him a bike, and he has ridden in the Dempsey Challenge and done fundraising both for the Dempsey Center and other important causes. “In doing so, we did Bikes for Tots, me and Freddy Rodriguez. We gave bikes to underprivileged children in Maine.” Rodriguez is a pro-cyclist in California.

Richardson said he rode 300 miles non-stop in his Bikes for Tots fundraiser, “A triple-century ride! And we raised $5,000” that was used to purchase bicycles and helmets that were distributed by the Renaissance School in Auburn. The Renaissance School is part of the St. Mary’s Health System and is a special purpose private school that serves children in grades K-8.

“This year, we didn’t have a fundraiser, because of COVID. So we just concentrated on the Dempsey Challenge,” Richardson said. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Richardson and his wife decided to forgo their usual corporate fundraising requests and created their own fundraising group instead.

Their efforts paid off, and they led the fundraising efforts for this year’s Challenge by almost $10,000 above any of the corporate fundraisers, Richardson said. Other members of Richardson’s team have worked hard with their fundraising efforts, and Friday saw the team reach a total of more than $50,000 in donations.

Their Be the Miracle team has 33 members from around the world and across the US, in Germany, Italy, Venezuela, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and California. “These people, because of the connection with Patrick, have become friends,” he said. “The Dempsey Challenge . . . is also about relationships. You get to meet people who are in the same boat.”

This year’s fundraiser is a virtual event, and has been extended till midnight on Wednesday, Sept 20, 2020.

The Challenge ride was also virtual this year, hosted by Zwift, an online training app for running and cycling. Cyclists were to take part in virtual 10-, 25-, 45-, and 60-mile rides to help raise funds to fight cancer. Zwift had promised an additional $25,000 donation to the Dempsey center if either 25,000 cyclists from around the world joined the event, or $25,000 was raised by Zwift as part of the event.

As part of the Zwift experience, the Dempsey Center invited 5 participants, all with ties to the Dempsey Center or Dempsey Challenge, to be part of an in-person experience located at the Dempsey Center. Participants pedaled on a trainer, driving their avatar around a virtual course.

Guests included Kyle Rancourt, Dempsey Challenge steering committee member and Zwift group ride leader; Trevor Maxwell, Dempsey Center client and founder of online community and podcast Man Up to Cancer; Lizzie Baker, M.D., cancer survivor and cycling coach of the Dempsey Challenge “Training Tuesdays” series; Dennis Richardson, co-captain of “Be the Miracle” – the top fundraising team of the Dempsey Challenge.

The event was to virtually host several celebrity athletes, including Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall, Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden, Stanley Cup winner Andrew Ference, and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte.

In order to host this special event during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dempsey Center adhered to state CDC guidelines, taking additional precautions to ensure a safe and meaningful event for guests. 

Following the virtual ride Saturday, Richardson planned to cycle in person on Sunday “to the ocean and back,” wearing his pink and purple tutus, for a video to download to Strava, another virtual training app for runners and cyclists.

For virtual rides, cyclists remove the rear wheel of their bike and attach it to a training device that adjusts pedaling resistance to give the rider the impression of climbing up and coasting down hills.

Richardson’s father died from complications of colon cancer in 1999. “We didn’t have a Dempsey Center then,” Richardson said.

On December 14, 2019, Richardson’s brother, Eric, died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

Dempsey and his family came to Maine over the Christmas holiday, and Dempsey then stayed on an extra day after his wife and children returned to California to “spend a day with me and get me through it. To give me advise, help me out,” Richardson said. “So, you know, he went out of his way . . . so how do you repay that? So what you do, you work a little harder, and you raise more money.”

Richardson said that with this extended visit, Dempsey “saved me twice. In that challenge to quit smoking, he saved my life.”

Dempsey found a special way to help Richardson remember his brother by giving Richardson a wristwatch. Dempsey told Richardson to think of his brother every time he puts on the watch.

A couple of weeks ago, when Richardson met with Dempsey in person, he told Dempsey “Every time I put this watch on, I think of Eric . . . and you.” It is this caring and friendship that Richardson said motivates him with his efforts for the Dempsey Challenge.

Dennis Richardson wears a watch that was given to him by Patrick Dempsey after the sudden death of Richardson’s brother, Eric, last December. Richardson said he thinks of his brother every time he puts on the watch. (Tsukroff photo)

Dempsey helped start the Patrick Dempsey Center at Central Maine Medical Center, Lewiston, in response to his mother’s bouts with cancer. The first Dempsey Challenge took place in 2009. Dempsey’s mother died on March 24, 2014.

The Dempsey Center “has always been a positive spin on such a negative family situation, with cancer,” Richardson said. “You know, they help everybody in the family, they heal them . . . not just the patient.”

A day trip to Phippsburg

Out and About

by Rachel Morin

It was a lovely mid-August day, sunny, warm, with blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds.  It was the kind of day for a pleasant family outing.  My family and I were off to enjoy breakfast at Sebasco  Harbor Resort in Phippsburg.  Sitting at our table, with an oceanside view, we settled in to enjoy a wide selection of food laid out for guests.  Servers were busy helping us with our choices, so many and so delicious!

We love the large clump of Black -Eyed Susans and have many at home. (Rachel Morin photo)

We learned  Sebasco had a slow start for business this spring, but things started to pick up in July.   By  now, in August, business was the best it has ever been, according to Bob Smith, owner of the Sebasco Harbor Resort.

There were several tables with families and everyone was enjoying the food.   Following our tasty breakfast,  we walked around  the spacious grounds  enjoying the  salt water air and seeing  boats dotting the water everywhere.

But being the ardent flower gardeners we are, we made a point to spend most of our time walking through the huge well-cared for flower gardens.  The  flowers were luxurious and at their peak.   They called for us to take pictures!  Not a weed in sight! 

And so, we took our  time, looking carefully at each clump of flowers, identifying each flower, and comparing it to the ones we had at home.   We continued our slow meandering and picture taking until we had seen every flower and then walked along the ocean side for more pictures.

We  then continued our wanderlust drive around Phippsburg and stopped to see the biggest Linden Tree we have ever seen in Maine.  It was beautiful in its majesty but we were  unable to capture the entire tree by camera.

The Phippsburg Congregational Church with its close to 300 years of history was nearby.  A posted sign saying it is closed during the pandemic but parishioners may still access it online with messages from the  pastor.

Next we came across two very old cemeteries across the road from each other and visited them and read the tombstones with interest.  Lots of history to learn there.  Old fashioned names and their lives depicted on the tombstones.   More pictures as we walked  along the rock–walled enclosed cemeteries.

The Phippsburg Congregational  Church, an old historic church with nearly three centuries of memories. (Rachel Morin photo)

After a few more stops along the way, we headed home to work on some art projects for Gerry and Debbie’s art gallery in their backyard deck. It was a very enjoyable day and we promised ourselves another day before our Maine winter sets in.

Survivor Drive event

Painted windows at The Dempsey Center during the 2020 Dempsey Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Deneka Deletetsky)

Due to the current circumstances, we will not be able to come together for our signature Survivor Walk, typically an important part of Challenge weekend festivities. With that said, we would still like to celebrate you—as a cancer survivor and cancer warrior. Please accept this invitation to participate in our newly introduced Survivor Drive event.

We invite you to drive by one of our Dempsey Center locations, beginning September 20, for a moment of solitude, peace, and reflection as we recognize all who have been touched by cancer. You will see our traditional Signs of Hope + Healing and hear words of hope and encouragement as we celebrate you—the true spirit of the Dempsey Challenge.

Although we can’t be together in person, our hearts and minds are with you. Please accept the enclosed gift as a token of the appreciation we have for you and your commitment to the Dempsey Center community. 

I send my best wishes to you and your family, and to those who are still fighting cancer every day. Your resilient spirit and courageous attitude inspire us all. Please know you are not alone, and we are in this fight together. 

Patrick Dempsey

Crafting the new year for Lewiston Public Schools under COVID-19

Lewiston High School senior Josh Randall won’t be able to play traditional football against other schools this year, due to restrictions put in place by the Maine Principal’s Association during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewiston football players will have intra-mural scrimmages this fall. (Photo courtesy of Josh Randall)

By Nathan Tsukroff

LEWISTON – A commitment by the Lewiston Public Schools in the spring of 2020 to give parents a choice of in-person or remote schooling was “kind of our springboard” to crafting the new school year under the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We knew that we were going to have the remote option, and we were going to have to find out which parents wanted which option” for classes starting in the fall of 2020, according to newly-appointed Superintendent Jake Langlais.

Langlais took over as interim superintendent for the schools in July when previous Superintendent Todd Finn resigned for health and personal reasons after just a year in the position. Langlais had been the Lewiston High School principal since 2017, and was previously principal at the Lewiston Middle School.

“And then when we looked at the physical size of our district, and at least the estimate, at the time, of who wished to be remote, we had as many as the high 70’s and low 80’s percent” of parents who wanted their children to attend school in-person, he said. “So when the (State of Maine) guidelines came out at the end of July, we looked at our projection of students that we thought wanted to come to school, and we took that number and started looking at the social-distancing requirements. And that’s when we knew that if this number stays that big, or gets bigger, we were going to have to cut this group in half somehow.”

At the same time, the school district was looking at providing additional support for students, and trying to determine how to provide office hours for teachers to be available for students. “And also some planning around social/emotional” needs of the students as they deal with the stress and trauma of dealing with the pandemic, Langlais said.

“And so that led us to say, okay, if we’re splitting our groups, what’s the best way to do this? Is it an alternating – is it a Monday/Tuesday, nothing Wednesday, then a Thursday/Friday?” he said. “The picture started to paint itself, because we landed in a place where our available staff and our parent desire to be in school” pointed to two cohorts, or groups of students, that would attend split sessions at the schools.

The district also looked at students who might have special education needs, and students who would attend the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, which provides “a pretty specialized program” for students from six schools in the area, Langlais said. The requirements of the programs at LRTC generally means students must attend in-person four days a week.

That led the district to create four cohorts, starting with cohort A, which attends classes in-person on Monday and Tuesday each week, with remote learning on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Cohort B attends in-person on Thursday and Friday, with remote learning on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Students who opted for only remote schooling make up Cohort C. These students are being taught mostly by dedicated teachers who are doing just remote classes,” he said. “In most cases, we had enough students who wanted to be remote that we could take a group of teachers and have them do just remote teaching.” More than 100 students each at the elementary schools, “and a pretty high number (of students) at the middle and high school” have chosen remote schooling.

Cohort D is made up from students in the vocational classes, technical education classes, and some of the district’s “special populations”, Langlais said. This group of students will attend school in-person four days a week, although limits on staffing mean some classes may not be possible this school year.

The district has around 5500 students, and about 1100 staff members.

For the remote sessions, whether hybrid or full-time, students are being provided with computers to connect to the schools for classwork over the internet. The district received Mifi cellular “hot spot” devices from the State of Maine last spring, and provides them to families that need internet access. The Mifi devices connect to the Verizon cellular network to provide wifi internet access, but cannot be used for phone calls.

Students connect remotely over apps that include Zoom and Google Classroom, along with the Seesaw learning app for the younger grades.

Langlais said there are some supply-chain issues, which means some students will have to wait for needed hardware.

Last week was the first day of school for the new year, “and the energy was incredible!” Langlais said. Wednesday was a full remote day, where teachers had the choice of coming to their schools or working from home. Students had remote activities and teacher support sessions on Wednesday.

Splitting the classes into two groups means that 10 or fewer students are in a classroom, wearing face masks and properly separated under mandated guidelines. Lunches are delivered to students in classrooms by the nutrition program staff, and students are allowed to remove face masks for eating, while remaining at least six feet apart from other students.

The district staff “did a lot of brainstorming” as well as sharing ideas with other school districts to arrive at this final model for the school year, Langlais said. Schools in Maine also built on the knowledge of schools in the southern and western states which opened earlier in the summer.

Teachers who needed to stay out of the buildings due to concerns over the spread of the virus are generally able to work with students remotely, so most of teachers in the district have remained on staff.

The other big impact for Maine schools is the requirement for social separation in sports. The Maine Principals Association just recently set guidelines that do not allow for tackle football games between schools. Students on the Lewiston teams will be able to scrimmage against each other, but not play in the traditional games against other schools. The district is looking at the possibility of 7-on-7 football, “which is more of a flag football” game, Langlais said.

                The district is considering an abbreviated football season this spring, with competition between schools, although that will depend on the trend in the pandemic infections in the area.

Indoor volleyball is not allowed, and may be moved outdoors.


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