One of the most amazing and inspiring qualities to WaterFire volunteers is how frequently they are out in the world making other kinds of magic happen. Melissa Ferrell is an avid volunteer all over the state, making good things happen with a variety of organizations. Her real start to volunteering, though, happened right here at WaterFire.
About five years ago, Melissa began her journey as a WaterFire volunteer as part of the WaterFire Ballroom that used to take place in Turk’s Head Plaza. She got sucked in pretty quickly from there.
“I volunteered once, and then another time, and then another time, and I was like ‘I might as well keep going because it’s fun!’”
After that, Melissa found herself volunteering with a larger and larger number of groups – Girls on the Run, Tour de Tentacle, a handful of charity runs – and a big part of what keeps her doing it is the people involved. Such was the case with her first WaterFire crew.
“It was just a good group of people – I didn’t want to leave! They’re like ‘you can leave, you’re time’s up’ but I just couldn’t leave because there’s all this stuff to do. I just couldn’t leave them, and I was having fun, so why not?”
Besides expanding her volunteerism, WaterFire also led Melissa to have a deeper relationship with Providence itself. The calmness of the river in the morning, before the crowds arrive and before the city has really woken up, is a pretty incredible time to be on the river volunteering.
“The morning builds, the first things out in the river when the city is quiet there’s like no one around, the sun is coming up – it just brings the city in a whole new light. And I think people should experience that and I think it makes you appreciate the city more, too. Not just WaterFire, not just the people, but the actual city of Providence is great.”
For WaterFire, luckily, the serenity isn’t limited to the early morning. Melissa is currently the lead volunteer at the WWII Memorial Luminaria installation, a very reflective part of the event. One moment in particular sticks out as a fond and important memory:
“There was a little boy who wrote a message to his grandfather who had passed away. He’s writing it, and I look, and his mom’s crying, and her sister comes over and reads over her shoulder and she’s crying, and I’m glancing at them and getting misty-eyed. We were all a mess, but it was just so heartfelt. It’s a solemn feeling over there.”
Being a WaterFire volunteer affords some pretty incredible moments, memories, and connections. People like Melissa are what keep organizations like WaterFire – and the many other places that are lucky enough to have Melissa’s help – going strong and continuing to make a positive impact here in Rhode Island. There’s plenty to do, and we make a point to show our thanks for any and all help.
“You guys actually make it known that what we do – whether it’s tending the fires, building the braziers, doing the Woodpile Workouts – it’s appreciated. If we weren’t there to do it you guys would have to do it.”
We’re grateful for all Melissa does for us and for many people across the state. We’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be an active difference-maker like Melissa, and she’s learned a lot about what it takes to put on an event the size of WaterFire. The complexity of both is pretty moving, and the only way to understand is to strap on your boots and get active.
“Something like WaterFire – there’s so much that goes into it, and unless you’re volunteering you have no idea.”