Most WaterFire volunteers drive a few minutes to get to Providence and start their night transforming a city. Neither Kim nor Lily Widdup is this type of volunteer. This mother and daughter duo makes the trek up the East Coast from Maryland to return to Kim’s original home, the Providence area, and visit her parents. Growing up and going to college here, she recalls the old Providence that WaterFire has since helped to transform completely.
“I remember Providence before they unearthed the rivers and did that huge project,” she says, reflecting on the old industrial-looking riverfront which became quiet and desolate every sundown. Having since moved to Maryland, she had only this image of Providence in her head until a conversation with a neighbor.
“I had heard about WaterFire from a neighbor of mine in Maryland – he’s a minister – and he had gone and found it to be an incredibly spiritual event.” So, of course, the Widdups took his advice and made the trip up – Kim seeing the Providence River with a new bend and in a new location with an entirely foreign, cobblestone face on it – to see and experience WaterFire. The event drew her in instantly.
Kim thought to herself, “I love it so much that I want to find a way to help other people enjoy WaterFire in the way that we do.” So she signed up for herself and her daughter, Lily, to be part of the event.
“Because Lily is not eighteen,” Kim thought at the time, “I didn’t know if they would allow her to volunteer. I called and got all the different descriptions of the stations that we could volunteer at together, and where they were located and what they did. It was so easy to jump right in and be a part of it.”
Lily and Kim were placed at an Ambassador Station, greeting volunteers and showing off what Providence has to offer. Their station leader helped them get up to speed with the basics of running the station, and soon the mother-daughter duo were confident WaterFire volunteers.
Of course, the comfort of the process isn’t what drives the Widdups to volunteer. It’s not what moves them to continue coming back and being part of the event. It’s a deeper feeling than that. Kim and Lily both share that feeling.
“It’s a chance for the people of the Providence area and New England in general – and even from outside of the country – to come and see a wonderful festival,” Lily said. “It’s a great cultural experience where people can not only enjoy the beauty of WaterFire in itself, but they can also see arts performances.”
Kim agreed completely. But it’s the elements that change and are anything but static that keep her coming back, much like Providence’s transformation from her old memory of the riverfront.
“It’s different every time you go because the music is different, and the way the fires burn is different, and the sparks floating through the air… you take something different away every time you participate in WaterFire. It’s an amazing production to be a part of.”
For Lily, knowing only the new Providence that her mother had returned home to see, the chance to become part of the City was a great one. “For me,” she said, “To come from out of town and see this volunteer opportunity that I can continue while in college is a great experience.” Lily is currently applying to colleges and hopes to end up in the area so that she can continue being a regular, incredible WaterFire volunteer. Kim hopes so, too.
For now, though, the Widdups are indeed voluntourists: driving the many hours from Maryland to be part of these events that mean so much to the family.
“We try to coordinate it so that we’re here for a lighting,” Kim said of their vacation plans. “And everyone on staff at WaterFire, they are so friendly and helpful and they make it so easy to come and volunteer.”
And the Widdups encourage those outside the area to do the same. “It’s a unique, rewarding volunteer experience. Anyone who can plan their trip around volunteering should take advantage of that opportunity, because I think they’d just want to come back and do it again.”
Of course, if someone were already considering coming into town to see the event, Kim would advise getting more involved. “If it’s something you enjoy participating in anyway, and you’d be there regardless, it’s nice to be there and help out and enjoy it at the same time.”
Even from Maryland, Kim and her daughter Lily are able to feel a deep connection to Providence, to its rivers, and to WaterFire; like they say: home is where the heart is.
“I’ll always consider it home. I have a very strong connection to Providence,” Kim said. “If I lived here full-time, I would volunteer at every WaterFire.”