"Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you none otherthan the one and only Nick A.!" screamed the announcer into themicrophone, in a vain attempt to be heard over the eruption of cheers from theoverflowing auditorium. As I stood, brimming with pride, the noise grew to adeafening level. I walked slowly toward the podium, my grin growing with eachstep. The announcer shook my hand, the principal slapped me on the back, and as Istepped up to the podium, I looked up at a gigantic banner blazing forth mysuccess. It read: "Nice Guy Builds Ramp!"
Well, it probablywould never happen that way. "Nice Guy Builds Ramp!" is not exactly acommon honor at an awards ceremony. The fact is I am, for the most part, a niceguy, and I did, in fact, build a ramp.
And here is another fact: the truereward did not come from any ceremony but rather because I built it for someone Idid not even know, and it made a world of difference to her. She was an olderwoman, perhaps in her 70s. I never found out what was wrong with her, but she hada gigantic oxygen tank in her simply furnished living room, and she waswheelchair-bound.
The whole business began when I participated in a summerprogram where teens from all over come together to do projects for people who aretoo old or poor to get them done. With other kids, I was assigned to build a rampfor this lady who had not been out of her house in seven years.
At first Icould not believe I had been talked into going to a work camp, but I soon found Ihad never felt so good or had so much fun. My crew and I really bonded, with thiscommon goal of helping a woman who was only seeing the world from her window.
Instantly, our group seemed to know each other. Lindsey was tall andathletic with really stretchy skin she could use to launch pencils from her knee,a talent she often demonstrated at lunch. Matt was a year younger and muchshorter, his crew cut not helping him much in the height department. We came tocall him the Handy Man because he was never without super-cargo pants that heldmore tools than seemed humanly possible.
Michelle had great,super-precisely braided hair that looked as if it had taken hours to do. I wasreally impressed until one of the braids fell out. "Oh, shoot," shesaid, and tied it back in. My whole world came crashing down when I realized thebraids were synthetic and that lots of girls wear them.
As our workprogressed, we were so involved that we became impervious to the attacks ofpassersby who stopped to ask what we were doing and could not believe we wereworking for free.
The big payoff came when "our" lady rolleddown the ramp for the first time. I will never forget her tears. For the firsttime in seven years she collected her mail herself. We all gave her a gigantichug. Still in a state of amazement, she invited us to visit anytime, claiming shehad plenty of soda. And as she thanked us over and over again, I'll admit it - Iteared up.
Building a ramp is not the only thing I was ever praised for. Iwon a bronze medal in the Rockland Final Fencing Tournament junior year, so Iknow what it is like to have people clapping when my name is called. But I alsoknow that building a ramp was a much greater success than any medal I could everwin.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.