“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Beginning in 1994, Tita Evertsz, a local Guatemalan woman, began volunteering her time serving in La Limonada (“The Lemonade”), even after her church leaders encouraged her not to go there. La Limonada is one mile long and one-half mile wide and it houses over 60,000 people; 45,000 of whom are children from birth to eighteen years of age. Tita’s own past included drugs and an abusive relationship so she could relate to the struggle of the people there. She would push her children in a stroller while carrying a pot of rice and beans to share with people in the community. She began building relationships with gang members and the people on the street. Years of serving the community and witnessing cycles of poverty, drug abuse, violence, and death reaffirmed Tita’s conviction that she had to do more.
Tita established Vidas Plenas in 2001. As a Guatemalan NGO, the organization strives to reach out to the children in the community – to rescue them from the gang culture that rules the streets of La Limonada. Over the next few years La Escuelita (“The Little School”) was established, providing a spiritual safe haven, education, healthy meals, hygiene, and scholarships to attend formal schools in Guatemala City.
In 2004, the first group from the US served with Tita in La Limonada, and helped raise funds to expand La Escuelita. A lifelong friendship emerged from this trip, leading Bill and Cherie Cummings, Leah Craver, and Donnie Long to establish Lemonade International in 2008.
The children are La Limonada’s future. Vidas Plenas’s efforts over the past 17 years have revolved largely around gang prevention – providing the children of La Limonada a safe place to learn and grow.
Since the year 2000, the team of teachers and staff members at the academies has provided hope for the children of La Limonada. These academies are not recognized as formal schools by the Guatemalan government, but are places where children ages 4-15 are taught the way of Jesus and so much more. They are loved, valued, fed, clothed, educated, taught proper hygiene, and provided with scholarships to attend formal junior high and high school.
The Limón Academy (formerly known as La Escuelita) was the first school established in La Limonada in 2001 with a small group of young children. By 2008 it had grown to serve more than 60 children – growing more and more each year. That year, the Mandarina Academy was established in a neighboring barrio and today almost 150 children attend school there as well. The Lima Academy opened in 2013, and currently has more than 100 children enrolled. The Toronja Academy is currently under construction, and is tentatively scheduled to open in July 2017.
The academies serve as beacons of light and hope in the midst of the darkness of La Limonada. The buildings provide much more than a space for the academies. They provide a place for parenting classes and a launchpad for relationally-based ministry among the children, individuals, and families in the community.