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My mom

1st place $50

By Maria Peralta, 14, Van Nuys HS

We all have many things in life. Some of us don’t realize what we have until we lose it. Well, that’s almost what happened to me. I didn’t lose anything, but I was about to.

What I took for granted was my mom. My father died when I was just a 6-year-old. So my mom had to raise me and my brothers by herself.

In March of 1998, my mom got diagnosed with a virus called lupus. So from March 1998 to April 2000 my mom just stayed in bed looking sick. She had three kids and none of us took care of her.

The three of us were always out with friends, partying and spending her money. So during two years of her illness, she went to the hospital about five times.

It wasn’t until the last time that she was there, that I realized how sick she was. She was about to die, and it was all because of me and my brothers. We didn’t give her the attention she required.

Since that day, our first priority has been our mother. I felt so bad for taking the person who brought me into this world for granted.

My advice is to appreciate your mother, because you only get one during your entire lifetime. And once you lose her, you can’t get her back.

Having people help me

2nd place $30

By Marché Neal, 17, Booth High School

I’m a 17-year-old mother. In December of 1998, I moved to a placement for pregnant and parenting teens in the foster care system. I was pissed. Me, barely pregnant, and not knowing what to expect, I was scared. But living there made some of my worries go away.

All the girls in there got the things that a mom on her own would have to buy. They got formula, diapers, lotion, powder, baby bath, shampoo and money to buy them and their babies’ clothes. Not knowing I had a good thing then, I wanted to leave and be with my family in New Orleans.

When I finally moved there in June of 1999, I took on the responsibility of my best friend’s 5-year-old daughter. That’s when all the problems began.

On Aug. 26, 1999, at 11 p.m., I went into labor. By 11:20 p.m. I had my son. It was hard for me to give birth with a 5-year-old asking questions, but I did and we made it through our first problem.

Things got harder. I was managing a household with two kids and trying to make our money last. With the $500 I received for being a welfare recipient, I bought formula for my son, diapers, wipes, blankets and toys. For the little girl I had to buy uniforms, shoes, hair things, nice ruffled socks and all of her school supplies. The food was taken care of by food stamps, thank God.

You know I told you my story because I took the things I got for free for granted. I didn’t appreciate what I had. I complained about everything – the food, school, rules and staff. And the things we got for free, because I said they were cheap things until I had to buy my own supplies. What I’m saying to teen parents like me is to appreciate the things you’ve got. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

The things I have
3rd place $20

By Rajeny Chacko, 16, Whitney High School

As I glanced out from the window, I saw the majestic hills and vibrant green land of India below. This scenic view refreshed my mind and I anticipated reaching this mystical place where so many people in the past have dreamed to come to and risked their very own lives to get here. Once the plane landed at the Delhi airport, I got my luggage and caught a taxi to the hotel. The air was hot and humid. Flies flew all around my body. I felt sticky all over. This was the big city of New Delhi, the capital of India. Was this the place Christopher Columbus wanted to come? A place of unrelenting heat and bugs?

After resting for a couple of hours, I decided to venture out in the open and visit the wonderful Taj Mahal. Coming halfway around the world, I found it very sensible to visit this beautiful monument, one of the seven wonders of the world. Soon, I found myself sitting in an over-crowded bus full of tourists. We traveled almost nonstop for hours and hours on that narrow and bumpy road. Even though it was very tiresome, the beauty of the land we traversed brightened my day. I kept my thoughts focused on that majestic site, which I was about to see.

But the tour guide decided to give us a tour of the "other side" of India, an added bonus I guess. He warned us that it might be very emotional and disturbing.

After our unanimous approval, he took us down to the narrow and crudely built roads with winding curbs. As we went further inside the city, the landscape changed totally. The ground, walls, buildings and people were all shades of brown covered with dirt and dust. We saw many hungry children crying. Babies yelped with hunger. Near-dead children lay helplessly on the streets. Many of them wore torn, threadbare clothing, if any at all.

When I looked into each face, I saw the sad story of their lives. Their eyes held so much pain. They have suffered and suffered and suffered till there was no more hope in their lives. They lived no better than the stray dogs in the street. I will never forget that sight. The blind, the lame, the sick and the helpless were everywhere. They came running after our bus sticking their hands out, begging for money and food. People on board, filled with pity, threw some coins out the window and the children scrambled to gather the coins which they fought over who owned it first. The bus stopped for a minute. Many women in the bus had tears streaming down their eyes.

We got off the bus to give something to these poor and desperate people. They gathered around us. Many were crying. Others were begging.

I saw a poor lady searching the garbage dumpster for any food. She found an apple core, brown and gross. She munched it down.

I saw bones the size of pencils on people so emaciated they looked as if they had never even eaten any food all their lives. Some were sleeping right on the ground in mud and dirt.

Tears flowed down my cheeks. I wished I could do something for them. I tossed some money to the children and boarded the bus. As I looked out the window while the bus departed, I saw the same sad children staring up at me with tears, as if their faces beckoned me to come back.

These images still haunt me. The moans and crying are still clear in my head. I saw the most base of human conditions ever imaginable. It was all there. Never having been exposed to this, it came to me like an electric shock. This experience transformed me to a human with appreciation for things I have. I began to donate more to the poor. I remembered how lucky I am to be living in this land of rich, with a roof over my head, a family to love, warm food on my table, free education and plenty of opportunity to succeed. I realized here in the United States everything that I took for granted.

Honorable mentions

Having toilet paper
By Matt Garcia, 14, Verdugo Hills HS

The thing I take for granted the most is TOILET PAPER! Did you know that in ancient Roman times people would go to the bathroom all in the same room, with no stalls! Then they would all use the SAME sponge when they were done.

In later times, in some places it was common to use Sears and Roebuck catalogs in outhouses. There would be no point in T.P’ing a house, if you only had catalog pages!

There are specific reasons why I shouldn’t take toilet paper for granted. For instance, I know everybody has gone to the bathroom and reached for the toilet paper and it was gone. You have to yell for help or look for toilet paper on your own, which is hard to do at that moment. Everybody should appreciate toilet paper, mainly for this reason. Let’s face it, toilet paper is a big part of everybody’s life, unless you use your hand for that job, like some ancient cultures did. If you’re using anything other than toilet paper, I don’t know you!

In conclusion, let me say something about school toilet paper. Those sheets are too thin! You have to get about 20 of them just for one round. They’re so thin, they can be used as those face oil absorber sheets.

But I guess they’re better than the paper towels, if you’re using the paper towels in the wrong place. They’ll leave it raw where the sun don’t shine. That must hurt.

Being alone

By Gar Schultz, 19, Hollywood

I have always been one who has taken life seriously. I spent five years on the streets, from the time I was a 14-year-old until three months ago.

I have learned the hard way that things come and go in the blink of an eye. I have learned that just because you earn something, doesn’t mean that it won’t be taken from you just as fast.

I used to live in Germany. Now I’m in the U.S. Living in two different countries in my life has also made me see that being an American citizen gives me freedoms that other countries couldn’t even have dreamed of.

Of all these things, there is one thing I have always taken for granted, and that is my independence. A small thing, I know, many of you probably think, but I am not one to make friends easily. I prefer to be alone.

I never really think of what would pass if something were to happen, like if I got sick or in an accident. Who would take care of me? No one. I have no one to call, no one to lean on …

This being alone has always been something that has made me stronger. And it’s the only thing I take for granted.

My virginity

By Anonymous, Crenshaw Charter Learn HS

There are a lot of things that I take for granted. But the one thing I really took for granted was losing my virginity at the age of 14.

I made the wrong decision by having sex, because my goal was to wait until I was married. I can’t say why I chose to do this. Well, yes I can—curiosity.

Even though I took the sex education class in middle school, it didn’t tell me about the little details I needed to know. They told me about major things like AIDS and STDs, but they didn’t really explain my hormones.

In making this decision, I’d say that 80 percent was my decision and 20 percent was the information I didn’t get from sex education classes and my mother. I had a hard time communicating with my mother and never had a real talk about sex with her.

So, with a curious mind, I had sex, wondering what it was all about. After experiencing that feeling, it started a world of trouble for me. I became pregnant, but lost the baby due to an STD called chlamydia. I have learned my lesson. As for those little things I needed to know, I found them out the hard way. I find myself in a position now that I am more mature and can teach younger kids about the little things. Kids need to know about their hormones and about sex.

Now that I’ve been through all of this, I look back and am very happy that I not only cured the STD, but also lived to see another day. My goal in life, as I said before, was to wait until I was married, which lead to another mistake. I not only lost my virginity, but I lost it to a homeboy, who I lost contact with after our encounter together.

What others do for me

By Mellisa Laurel, 15, Verdugo Hills HS

Most people do not think about what other people do for them, and sometimes I’m like that, too.

My father and mother had their divorce when I was only a 2-year-old. Ever since they were separated, my mother has been working really hard, even though she has severe back pain.

It was July 1997 when my mother found out she had a slipped disc in her spine. She had an operation, because she thought it would work and make her walk the same way she walked when she was a flight attendant for the Philippine Airlines.

But a few days after her operation, she got even worse than before she went into the hospital. But since my mom had us to take care of, she still sacrificed herself into working and raising me and my brother. She taught us discipline and education and other important things in life.

She has been doing this for the past few years. Every day I watch her walk to the car and go to work. Even just to go into the other room is really hard for her. It’s such a struggle. But she’s still there to put food on our table, grant our wishes and love us with no regrets.

Every time I ask her to go shopping with me, like mothers and daughters do, she needs a wheelchair or something to help her. It’s not that I’m embarrassed to be seen with her in a wheelchair, it’s because she was still there to shop with me, even though her back was aching really bad.

People sometimes take parents for granted. They don’t realize how they are saviors of our lives. When they’re gone and cannot hear our pleas anymore, those people will regret it.

Now that I’ve realized about what my mom does for me and my brother, and how she’s the best mother in the whole world, I’m gonna tell her that I love her and thank her for everything. I’m gonna pray to the Lord everyday, because I’m so thankful for my mother.