Among WaterFire volunteers, there are those who have been with us for decades, hooked since their first lighting, and others who are just starting their journey. Dalton Kelley, a member of the Americorps Topaz 13 FEMA Corps, along with the other members of his team were among these first timers on June 24th.
Before volunteering, Kelley says, his team didn’t really know what WaterFire was about. They had been to one lighting beforehand, and were inspired by what they saw.
“We got there about ten minutes before they actually lit the fires. It was very physical when they came down with the torches and the boats showed up. They took the torches and lit them on fire and we all knew we wanted to be a part of it. We were like ‘How can we do this?’, so we went to the WaterFire website, and saw that they were looking for people to volunteer.”
Kelley and his team signed up to be a part of the morning build crew afterwards, and despite heavy rain on the river trying to put a damper on their spirits, they still wanted to come back for more.
“It was very rainy and we all forgot to wear rain jackets so we pretty much got soaked. It was a lot of hard work but at the same time it was great interacting with everybody. The work was great, and we got free lunch and stuff like that, which I felt like we earned. There’s nothing wrong with a good day of hard work.”
Kelley says the welcoming nature of the experienced volunteers is one of the reasons he and his team decided to come back. “It was like a family in the way that people had been together so long,” Kelley says. “We even met people who had met each other doing it who were friends and hung out.
“It was really cool that they brought us in and taught us what they knew. They were easy on us because we didn’t know a lot of stuff and they really took care of us like a family so it was a great experience.”
Kelley says that volunteering with WaterFire is hard work, but there is a lot that you get out of it, especially getting to see the final product you’ve worked so hard to bring together.
“You don’t just do it and never see any of it. You actually put the work in action. It’s something you’re not going to get to do everyday. You get to jump on a boat and build bonfires. It’s very much one of the coolest experiences I’ve done this year. This art exhibit, it’s free flowing, it can be anything you want it to be and that’s what I like about WaterFire. It’s not just an art exhibit. It could be a festival. A gathering. It’s just what it is and I’ve never seen anything like it. Before WaterFire, I have not seen that many people together in Providence together at one time, so it’s definitely a cool experience.”
Kelley captures what WaterFire volunteers are all about with his parting words:
“Go to it. You’ll have a lot of fun. Just volunteer in general because you never know what you’re gonna find. Volunteering is the best work you’ll ever do because you’ll get a lot more out of it than a normal job. A lot of times you’re either doing something benefiting your community or benefiting other people. It’s just a good feeling to know that you didn’t waste your time, you went out and did something with it. So for anyone in the Providence area, I would definitely recommend volunteering for WaterFire because it’s fun and you meet a lot of great people.”
Thumbnail image: A Gondola glides through basin. Photograph by Scott Friedman.