The longer you volunteer for WaterFire, the more you come to understand how engrained it is with the City of Providence. Most of our volunteers live in or around the area, but many moved here for one reason or another and have used WaterFire as a way to make new friends and become familiar with Providence. Two of our dedicated Woodpile Workout volunteers, Beatriz and Duane, met with me to chat about the people, the place, and the art.
Beatriz is a transplanted outsider, having moved here less than a year ago to start a new career.
I was looking into what Providence has to offer… then I came across this thing called WaterFire, which I never heard about before, being from Maine.”
So she went. “I just thought it was magical. There was no other word for me, really.”
Signing up online, she got involved with WaterFire’s Woodpile Workouts, which typically consist of small groups stacking or wood for the fires or loading it under the bridges spanning the Providence River.
“I’m new in town; I don’t know anyone, so why not start volunteering? And the Woodpile has been great for that because we really can talk.
“Coming from Maine, I had to tell people how to stack wood properly because city folks can’t do that.”
Beatriz was likely surprised to learn that city folks at WaterFire Providence actually are experts at stacking wood. City folks like Duane, who’s lived in Pawtucket her whole life and has seen Providence grow and change throughout that time.
“When I was younger I used to work in Providence quite a bit, and I loved the City then. And to see it transition from then to now… when I was younger, it was a vibrant city… then it ran into tough times, and now it’s bounced back again. And the arts are big in Providence.”
Duane began volunteering as a photographer, but has since added Woodpiles to her list of favorite WaterFire activities. Her first experience was at a photographers meeting.
“I felt very welcomed,” she says.
In addition to keeping up on her photography, Duane has continued coming to Woodpiles because she enjoys “getting to know the people that are involved in this, the stories, the conversations at Woodpile.” It really is an eclectic and passionate group of people.
Of course, the moniker “Woodpile Workout” exists for a reason: it’s a very physical way to volunteer. “Woodpile is a good exercise; that’s why I do it.” And stacking the wood into the bays – the areas under the bridges lining the river – is often an important part of a Workout. We hop on the same boats you see loading the braziers during events.
There’s a boat ride involved there that’s always fun, and it’s great, and you see a different side of the City.”
Beatriz agrees. “We were on a boat during the Woodpile, and as we’re driving the boat I’m just looking at the buildings and it’s just… it amazes me. And even the bridges – the bridges are beautiful. How many times would you go under a bridge in a city?” It’s something she marvels at as if each time is the first. “It’s just a cool experience. An enriching experience – not just for your body, but for your soul, too.”
And she’s right. It’s a truly amazing view that more people should see. Volunteering with WaterFire has also helped Beatriz get more familiar with her new city. “It also has showed me some of my favorite things… you can kind of get to know the whole City, really… I love it.”
And that’s a joy that Beatriz and Duane are so happy to share with visitors and locals alike.
“For me, being an outsider,” Beatriz tells me, “I think we’re not just ambassadors for WaterFire, but we’re ambassadors for Providence. We’re promoting the City. And what a cool city this is to live in.”
As a local native, Duane has seen WaterFire grow in tandem with Providence.
“It’s an event that brings so many people into the City… the solemness of it, yet the serene happiness of it… As a Rhode Islander, I’m very proud of that. We’re lucky to have it in Providence.”
Duane and Beatriz have both embraced volunteering with WaterFire – and especially the conversations during Woodpile Workouts – as a way to become closer with Providence, to connect more deeply with the environment and the people, and to make art with the entire community.
“You’re part of something bigger, something magical,” Duane says. “It’s just special.”
It’s something volunteering with WaterFire can claim as its own special privilege. And to those considering volunteering, Duane says simply, “Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.”