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Beneath the Grime This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Imagine a small cafeteria kitchen where boiling grease has slowly built up on the walls so that they have become brown with a layer of filth. The floor under the stove is black with dirt, grease, and unrecognizable bits of food. Many of the ceiling tiles are stained with watermarks or are black from mold and dirt. The rest has the same brown tinge as the walls. Mysterious feathers line the vent above the stove. There is a large freezer just outside the door where expiration dates seem to be guidelines more than anything else. Imagine the filthiest kitchen you have ever seen and then imagine that three meals a day are still prepared there. Now imagine that it is your job to clean and paint this kitchen.

This was my situation three summers ago. I was standing in the kitchen of a women’s shelter with ten other students as part of a mission trip to Montana. When presented with our task, all I could think was, Are you serious?

Like most teenagers, it wasn’t long before we were able to have fun and laugh as we worked. But, also like most teenagers, I wasn’t able to see beneath the surface. I saw a filthy, disgusting kitchen. What I didn’t see was that I was now in a completely different world.

It happened very unexpectedly. We were casually taking pictures when one woman became hysterical. She was crying and pleading for the film. One of her children was in the background of a shot and she was terrified that her ex-husband would find out where they were. It was only after repeated reassurances that the film would be kept private that we were able to calm her and convince her to let us keep the film.

Later that night I tried to grasp what had happened that day. The thought had never occurred to me that something as simple as a picture could evoke such pain and fear. In my world a picture is just a picture. I had always taken my safety and well-being for granted, but she could not.

My experience at that women’s shelter drastically changed my outlook on life. It has been more than two years since that day and I can still vividly recall it. Now I try to look beneath the surface, beneath the grime, to see what truly matters. From this single experience I learned compassion and understanding. Out of this compassion and understanding I have become inspired to do all I can to help those in need. I am incredibly grateful for what I have been given because I know now how very blessed I am.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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