Volunteer Spotlight: Jane Carlson

Basin braziers, Photograph by Jen Bonin

After a dozen years of volunteering, Jane Carlson has become extremely familiar with Providence and its people. First-time volunteers and even visitors immediately and automatically become part of WaterFire’s people — a giant family encompassing every type of individual one could ever dream up. For Jane, that’s part of a much larger magic that makes the event so important.

Jane Carlson and her guest lighters prepare to depart for the lighting ceremony. Photography by John Nickerson.

Jane Carlson and her guest lighters prepare to depart for the lighting ceremony. Photography by John Nickerson.

Jane moved back to Providence in 2003 and was looking for ways to become truly involved again.

“I was looking for a way to reconnect with the city,” she says, “to meet people, to familiarize myself with the new lay of the land in Providence.” Jane began volunteering and quickly found that her history in boating made her a perfect fit as one of our Woodboat Captains. She felt confident right up until she found herself centerstage during the procession.

“Doing the procession for the first time is a little bit intimidating – everybody’s looking at you.”


Captain Jane lines up her guest lighter’s torch for the WaterFire lighting ceremony. Photograph by Tom Lincoln.

Being a boat captain affords many opportunities to chat with all sorts of people, but Jane found that what she was hearing about Providence didn’t match what she was beginning to understand the city to be.

“People think there’s a lot of crime here, there’s a lot of gang activity,” she says. “One of the perspectives that I get on the city when I’m on the river… is that Providence isn’t that. It’s a peaceful place where people can co-exist, and we see the diversity in the crowds of people who come down to enjoy WaterFire. It really is an awesome way to get to see what works about Providence.”

Part of what works so well about Providence, for Jane, is its immense diversity and the passion people often have for it. “To be part of the community that creates this magical thing… I think there’s nothing else like it. It’s a way for me to give back to the city that I love.”


Zombie Jane stopped by the Brazier Society reception after working as an extra on Spring Break Zombie Massacre. Photograph by John Nickerson.

A fresh perspective on the city is something Jane never takes for granted, even if it’s a perspective shrouded by the indescribable magic that is WaterFire. “It’s magic. We make magic. And how often do you get to do that in your life? And we get to do it a bunch of times a year, with really great people.”

To those considering volunteering, Jane says simply “do it. You will not regret it. You will not regret a single second of it. Even if you do it once, you’ll get a new perspective on Providence at the very least… you get to be a person that makes magic.”

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