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1st Place Essay Winner: 9-14 Age Group

"Through Fire and Flames"

Nathaniel Amann
Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind
Tucson, AZ

I watched the houses come into view, whip by and disappear behind me in an instant. I, Nathaniel Amann, was in a very old van, one made by Ford Motors. You know those white featureless vans that plumbing companies use? Yeah, those. It was danged uncomfortable. With its old cloth seats and the stale air that smelled of dust and despair. To further the sense of eternal damnation that I was now experiencing, it had blue faux felt everywhere that itched and scratched ceaselessly. I was lost in the landscape rolling by. Of trees, cities, cars and people that whipped by. But, I was not absorbing the pictures that presented themselves to me in front of my eyes. Needless to say, I was very bored. So bored, that if my boredom were fire, it would be the biggest fire ever created in the universe. I like to think that is an accurate representation of how bored I was. As I watched the landscape roll by, an assign thought hit my mind: "Why am I in this van?"

Well, I was in that old van, experiencing the most boredom a man could ever possibly endure because, for some stupid reason, I had volunteered. Volunteered for what, you ask. Well, I had volunteered to go to a soup kitchen to help out feed the homeless. Why did I volunteer in the first place? It was not out of compassion, or out of caring. I volunteered for my own selfish reasons. I didn't like doing classwork in school, and volunteering was my ticket out of school. So, I gladly took it. I thought it would be a day of relaxation. I was wrong.

The outdoors finally lost all interest it had for me. I shifted in my seat and turned to look at the only other occupant of the van: my teacher. She had also volunteered to go with me to the soup kitchen. She was in the driver's seat, driving, of course. She noticed my gaze after a while, and at the next red light, turned around to me, and said "we should be there in a fiver." Five minutes, or five hours? It didn't matter, time felt the same to me in this van that was a piece of $@^&.

Suddenly, she turns a corner, and I'm plunged into a neighborhood that I did not really know. And she doesn't slow down and realize her mistake. Is the soup kitchen in this neighborhood? It can't be! I've always thought of a soup kitchen as a nice place. A place that was clean, well-lit and generally well-kept like a restaurant, if you will. This neighborhood doesn't seem to have any nice restaurants around here. My teacher kept on driving, even deeper into the abyss. The air seemed to take on a gray tinge, the people seem to be more poor and violent, the area seems like an different world. I keep looking out the window; the outside has garnered my attention. I take notice of every broken-down car, every barking dog, everything. I keep looking out the window, looking for a place, any place that seems safe, clean, and warm or, even resembling the world outside of this hell. I find nothing. Now, I would be lying if I told you I wasn't a little scared.

Suddenly, we stop. My teacher gets out of the car and opens the side doors to the van. Cold air rushed in, buffeting me. I stepped out of the van, and see a house at an intersection. There are fifty or so people at the house. Most seem homeless. My teacher confidently strode to the house, pushed through the homeless crowd and went into the house. I follow. The house is devoid of furniture. There are crates of food taking up most of the space in the house. The few tables there were loaded with food. There were also people. Yes, people. About six or so, they were all working. On what, you ask. There was a man on the phone, two was making and serving soup, and the rest was bagging food. I feel out of place here. What am I supposed to do?

My teacher motioned to me and I go up to her. She said that they need more help hauling food that will be soon here. At that exact time, two cars pulled up. I went outside with everyone else and watched the events unfold. Both drivers got out of the car, opened the doors and popped the trunk. There was so much food inside that the car was filled to maximum capacity. Only the driver's side area was left untouched. I asked my teacher where they got the food from. She said that the food came from food stores that made a donation to the soup kitchen. Then I walked up to the car, picked up a crate of food and started working.

After all was said and done, the cars drove off, visibly higher on their tires. "Now what?" I asked my teacher. She guided me to a small back room where a large food-preparation table lay. She told me that we were going to bag donuts. Hey, even poor people need to satisfy their sweet tooth. Okay, back on subject. Two large huge bags of donuts were hauled in. I got to work, again. I worked for what seems like hours, until all the donuts are gone. My clothes are stained with frosting and I am sweaty. I take a deep breath and prepared myself for what was to come next, another job. The another job never came, as my teacher told me that my volunteering hours were over and it was time to go back to ASDB.

The van, again. I sat down, tried to make myself comfortable and prepared for the ride back to ASDB. The neighborhood looked different, but I couldn't place my finger on it. What was different? I wondered about this for a few minutes, but, as I just was leaving the neighborhood, I knew. It looked different, because I had finally chosen to view it in its true colors, without the filter of fear. I now saw the place for what it really was, a place for low-income families, yes, but also, a place for families, for kids, for happiness. What brought about this difference? It was not the happiness from skipping school; I had gotten over that long ago. It was not happiness from leaving, because I was now a little sad, too, to leave this neighborhood. Why. Was. I. Happy? The answer clicked. I was happy because I did some good for others. That's all. That was the change inside of me.