August 19, 2017

A Memorable WaterFire Gift from Captain Mark Karas

Posted by PhyllisParker

I had recently become aware of an incredible opportunity offered by WaterFire (WaterFire Access Program). However, the surprise turned out to be on me — after I had booked a “surprise” ride for my sister who is handicapped and, what turned out to be an "amazing night on The Fez" we shared together a few weeks ago on June 24th.

Many of us who live in Rhode Island may sometimes take for granted that we live happy, healthy and mobile lives. We can pretty much walk and drive anywhere and enjoy WaterFire to its fullest on the beautiful Gondolas, rivers and canals of our Renaissance City of Providence. This is not so for folks who must live day to day with illnesses and limited mobilities.

Enter Volunteer Par Excellence, Capt. Mark Karas (better known as Mark Karas: Captain of Fez) who, according to a story written about him on the official WaterFire site, is out on the Providence River maneuvering a boat full of physically impaired WaterFire visitors during summer weekends. He helps those who can’t physically walk up and down the River get a very “special view” of the fires and activities from the water.

Back to our “magical” surprise night. After a light dinner, my sister and I arrived at dusk and were personally escorted onboard “The Fez” by Capt. Mark and his helpers. The ladies received a fresh carnation — nice touch — and all guests were offered a cold beverage before departure from the dock (another unexpected nice touch as it was a warm, but beautiful night).

While we were waiting to begin our ride, we watched endless boats lining up with volunteers dressed in black and ready to begin the gorgeous summer night’s Full WaterFire Procession to the basin where the crew aboard each boat took turns lighting the many fire pyres to be enjoyed throughout the evening.

Then it was our turn to begin our ride. We happened to be the FIRST in procession behind all these lightings and as Capt. Mark maneuvered “The Fez” softly and gently along the waters, he gave us a delightful history of the fires, the music and the entertainment.

Gliding along the firelit areas and before reaching the main basin, we ogled the gorgeous, authentic Gondolas from Italy berthed at water's edge and people-watched the guests onboard each one. One such Gondola was “bought out” by only two people who enjoyed their own personal singing Gondolier with wine, cheese, flowers, table linen, etc. — C’est La Vie!

Everyone on our boat was getting into the “mood” with beautiful, angelic music playing as specialized lighting sparkled throughout the entire basin and canal areas. All of a sudden, literally thousands of people were standing on the many bridges or were seated around the beautifully designed basin and amphitheater areas.

Folks were waving to us, shouting hello, and taking pictures and we felt we were being treated like royalty. As we fully entered the main basin the music and entertainment swelled with the incredible voice of Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma" (. . . none shall sleep). Even though Pavarotti is no longer with us, his vocal performance will give you goosebumps that you will long remember. We were all like little children — ooh-ing and ahh-ing — singing and swaying . . .

We hope you will be able to experience the joy that Capt. Mark exudes — a joy we both saw, heard and felt. He is quoted as saying, “It brings tears to my eyes what a gift it is. I’ve fallen in love with this city . . . I see tens of thousands of people go to WaterFire, and I see that it pulls people together. I can only hope that what brings them there is what brings me there: You’re a part of something . . . WaterFire lets us be a part of something that’s very special — a passion and compassion between what I do with the WaterFire Access people, and with the whole staff here -- there’s a unique passion here that there’s not enough of in the world right now.”

So I say to you it truly was a blessing to be able to participate in something as memorable as this. My sister, Heidi, said she thought she was in heaven listening to the music and would “never” forget that night. But if it were not for the WaterFire Access Program and the care and consideration of Capt. Mark throughout the entire ride, we and many others would not have had this opportunity.

I encouraged Capt. Mark to sing us a song as well (perhaps this feature was not available at the time —LOL — or he was a bit busy with his guests. I hear he has a nice voice though :) :) When we returned to the dock we had few moments with Capt. Mark and Heidi and I were so pleased to hear him say, “I only wish I had more time with the folks who sail with me. Each one of them is unique and special.”

You are indeed blessed, Capt. Mark Karas! Thank you so-o-o much and thank you WaterFire Access Program. We will remember that night . . . And oh, Captain Mark is also quoted: On his crash history? He says, “Haven’t hit a wall yet.”

Submitted by: Phyllis A. Parker

RESERVATIONS are required and can be made by emailing access@waterfire.org or by calling the WaterFire Access Program coordinator, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at (401) 273-1155, x 5531. They ask that you make your reservation at least two weeks prior to your selected date. Each WaterFire Access passenger may bring along one companion. When making a reservation, please have ready the contact information for both the eligible individual and his/her companion. Please let them know if passengers will be in wheelchairs and if they are motorized. Enjoy!!

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