Making Lemonade

I AM ART Lemonade Stand

We’re all familiar with the idiom, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. But what do you do when life gives you lemonade?

For the students in Emily Litsey’s high school art class, the answer is to sell the lemonade and donate the proceeds to Athentikos. For the last four years, this group has raised funds to offset costs of specific art projects. In 2019, their efforts allowed kids near Lake Atitlan at the Opal House the opportunity to create a beautiful mural on their new school building.

Like all nonprofits, Athentikos depends on the generosity of our volunteers and donors. Stories like Emily’s inspire our spirits and enable us to impact the lives of at-risk youth at our camps. Emily first learned about Athentikos through her involvement with Lemonade International when she took a trip to Guatemala, specifically, to La Limonada. La Limonada is a huge slum in one of Guatemala’s “red zones”. Athentikos’s documentary, Reparando, highlights La Limonada and a few of the people living there and using their creative power to make a positive change in their community. Everyone who goes to Guatemala with Athentikos comes back with inspiring stories about their experience. Emily was most inspired by the response Guatemalan kids had to art and the creative process. As an art teacher, she found the reaction to creativity was similar to her U.S students. Emily describes her trip as a reminder that kids are kids no matter where you are, and that art is a universal language. She didn’t want her trip to be a single event in her life that she completed and quit. She plans to return to with Athentikos, but in the meantime, Emily wanted to stay connected with Guatemala and bring her experiences home to the students in her art class.Highlights From Emily’s Trip to Guatemala with Athentikos

Emily originally began having her students do projects like creating personalized pieces of art for kids in the La Limonada school. However, one day, a student suggested raising money to help benefit Athentikos programming and sending kids to camp. In honor of La Limonada, which translates to “lemonade”, Emily’s students began a lemonade stand at the school. It runs for a full week during the spring semester each year and has become such a staple at the school that students anticipate its arrival each year. Emily loves the lemonade stand because she believes her students benefit from having the opportunity to learn how to organize and implement a project/fundraiser as well as being involved with philanthropy. But what is even more powerful, is that it also teaches her students about being aware of other’s needs and the ability of each person to serve others. While Emily has always loved art, she says that now she has a richer understanding of its importance. She’s motivated to help students realize there is more to the world than just the town they live in. We praise God for Emily and her students and for all of those who help support Athentikos by donating their time, money, and

Virtual Classes Cross Borders

A Girls' Home in Guatemala joins An Exchange Workshop virtually

Athentikos hosted an online workshop in June focused on Lettering taught by Alejandra Barillas (Ale), a Guatemalan graphic designer and professor. The workshop was open for anyone to join live and the recording is now available to our Exchange Members.

While our friends at the Oasis Home for Girls have been taking our I AM ART workshops for six years, this was the first time they joined us virtually. This was made possible because our Exchange Members GIVE ART opportunities through their generous support. 

Ale lead this three day workshop teaching the foundations of forming letters by discussing a Biblical truth: Process & Growth ending in this beautiful theme, “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”

We were thrilled to hear, from Betsy Baker, that the girls enjoyed the class. Here’s a little of their response and work. 

What did the girls enjoy about the Lettering Workshop?

They really liked doing the end design! Decorating the page, making it their own!

Did anything surprise you about the process?

I honestly was surprised by how good they already were! They really like writing and drawing!

"I really liked this workshop because it taught me something new and I think I could be good at it! I want to keep practicing!"
Oasis Participant

Why did you decide to participate in this workshop?

We decided to participate because I knew that several of the girls already had a great interest in lettering, and I thought this would be a good way for them to take it to the next level.

How was this workshop beneficial to your organization?

During this time of quarantine, the girls’ schedules have become repetitive with homework, housework and playing outside. I think they really enjoyed spicing up their day!

Join the I AM ART Exchange and MAKE ART by accessing this workshop and GIVE ART to under-resourced communities.

Casa Bernabe 2017 Was A Huge Success!

The Best Yet … REALLY

In October, we returned to the Casa Bernabé orphanage in Guatemala to heal through creative arts. This was our third collaboration with Casa Bernabé, and our I AM ART team led 9 workshops for 100 Guatemalan children during the weeklong camp. We picked up where we left off last year and guided children into a deeper understanding of themselves in God’s greater story of redemption.

Check out this amazing photo montage from our storyteller, Emily Coffee with Sweet Justice Photography!

I led a filmmaking workshop (a first for I AM ART) and guided the kids through producing a short engaging story. We wrote a script together about a group of teenagers who were running from their fears. In the end, the teens had to trust in the sacrifice of a stranger to be saved. The kids took on roles of acting, camera, sound, and even editing. In five days, we produced a short film and showcased it to everyone at our Art Show on Saturday. The kids were so proud of their accomplishments! It was such a blessing to help lead these kids in a new creative endeavor that taught them a deeper lesson. I was reminded again of the power of creative arts in telling a story that leads to healing. It really is overwhelming. Every year, I leave camp thinking we’ve reached the top of the experience, that there is no way future camps could top what we’ve done before. And, each time I am wholly surprised with the result. It just keeps getting better and better!

My heart is so invested in this community of people. As I have spent more and more time in Guatemala, I am certain that I am in the right place to use my talents to heal others and experience healing myself. Athentikos is at a crucial point in its organizational life. We have been presented with multiple opportunities to make a great impact here in Guatemala, the United States, and other countries, but we need your help. I have decided to stay in Guatemala during the interim period between our two fall camps this year to visit other potential organizations that have requested we bring this program to them. I am so excited about the potential of our work here. However, in order to continue, we need your help. If you feel that the stories that you read here are important and the impact we are making is the type of work that you could see yourself participating in, please sign up for a volunteer opportunity, donate your money, or come to Guatemala and experience this great journey of healing with us!

Please consider giving to Athentikos’ programming by using this link: Donate Here

Pre-Trip Anxiety

Courtney Noya traveling with Athentikos I AM ART

If you are reading this blog, then I hope it means that you’re interested in an I AM ART creative arts mission trip. I’m not saying you must be 100% committed to going in order to read this. In fact, even if there’s only 1% of you right now that thinks it might be a good idea, then I ask that you get comfy, settle in for a minute, and hear me out.

I know going on a mission trip is a lot to think about, so if you didn’t sign up on day 1, that’s okay. I had a lot of protesting going on in my brain when I was first presented with the idea of joining a trip. My protests included:

  • You’ll have to take time off work and school during exams.
  • You can’t afford this, you’re in college.
  • You’re not even really artistic, you just sometimes do crafts, SORTA.

I initially said “maybe” and “we’ll see”, but I knew the answer was going to be “no” because doubt and anxiety chimed in first. Why would I even consider it? But then I did consider it and began to wonder what I should do. I looked for some sort of magical sign from God, like a winning lottery ticket even though I don’t play the lottery. Then I realized that I might be hoping for something a bit too theatrical, so I changed my game plan. After about a week of simply praying for guidance, I realized I was already planning my trip, thinking about how I would get my professors to work with my schedule, how fundraising would work, and what kind of skills I had that might benefit others at camp. God had already led me where He wanted me to be. He was just holding on to the seat of my bike until I realized my feet were on the pedals the entire time and started moving.

And if this were a simple story it would end: “Then, all my fears were gone and I went on my trip with no trace of anxiety and everything was perfect.”

But these things are not perfect and this is not a simple story. Quite often, our stories just don’t work out that simple. The truth is that I was still anxious about a mile long list echoing in my head of everything that might go wrong. But, instead of ruminating on that list, I put my heart in God’s hands and tried to remind myself all of the things I was excited about like:

  • You’re going to be able to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala.
  • You’re going to be able to meet people who are a lot like you.
  • You’re going to be able to meet people who are a lot different than you.
  • You’re going to be able to see what God had been so excited for you to experience.

These are just a few of the benefits that my doubts and anxieties could never conquer. There are so many more. The I AM ART trip changed my life!

I hope as you read through the blogs on our website, or talk to friends who recommended IAA to you, that you also start feeling excitement and joy for all of the potential experiences you will have on one of our trips. We would love for you to join us! From a practical level, the earlier you register, the lower the initial fee and the cheaper the airfare. However, from a more emotional level, the earlier you register, the sooner you can start to let go of some of the nervousness and doubt and replace it with excitement and passion. We would love to have you. If you want to know more about the trip, I encourage you to explore and

Adventure awaits. You just have to start pedaling the bike.

Full Lives, Full Hearts

The following blog was written by Courtney Smalley. Courtney has been working with our partner organizations to gather interviews from the children about their experiences with I AM ART camp. 

A few weeks ago staff members of our partner organization, Vidas Plenas, asked their students what they learned in the I AM ART camp held there last July. Today, we’d like to share their answers with you! But first, some context—Vidas Plenas, which translates to “full lives” is an organization dedicated to “giving opportunities, through education and integrated care, to the neediest among us, so that they may have full lives.” It serves the people of La Limonada, a community of 60,000 people wedged into a ravine in the middle of Guatemala City. A river of black water flows through the ravine, and families of up to 10 or even more people make their homes in 10’ x 15’ plots of land on the sloping sides of rock and dirt. According to Vidas Plenas’ website, “this community has been forgotten, ignored, and isolated,” and now struggles with gangs, drug trafficking, and sexual, psychological, and physical abuse. And yet, “all it takes is will and love for the inhabitants [of La Limonada] to lead lives of dignity.”

Vidas Plenas helps the people of La Limonada find that will and love through two complementary programs geared toward the children and young people of the community. The first provides academic scholarships so that the kids and teens can get an education—“the best way to combat the cycle of poverty, abuse, and gangs that plague the community.” The second provides a place for kids to learn, play, and grow outside of school hours in special “little schools” or “life academies” run by Vidas Plenas itself. The students of these life academies are fed nutritious meals, get homework help, receive counselling support, take classes in art, music, English, and Bible studies, and are nurtured and cared for in numerous other ways as well. Vidas Plenas truly puts them on the path to leading full lives!

Athentikos has been honored to partner with Vidas Plenas and bring the I AM ART camp to their life academies several times. What’s even better—the kids hearts are truly changing as a result of the camps! These children and teens who are under constant pressure to join a gang, to mistrust or look down on those from the other side of town, and to doubt their own value, have been transformed by the God’s message of love delivered through I AM ART.

Take a look at what the Vidas Plenas staff and students had to say below:

What did you learn?

  • “I learned how to work in a team, how to be free, and how to share with others.”
  • “I learned not to hold onto ugly feelings, and I learned how we can express our feelings through dance.”
  • “I learned how to work in a team and learned that I can’t do anything alone—I always need help.”
  • “I learned that you should always work to come to an agreement, and I learned to be creative.”
  • “I learned that we are art because we are valuable and God loves us.”
  • “I learned that my heart shouldn’t become filled with sin and to always believe in Jesus. I’m not in any fights anymore.”

What does “I am art” mean to you?

  • “It means to paint, express myself, and draw.”
  • “It means to express myself, to paint, and to play, and it means freedom.”
  • “It means being an artist, a drawer, and a singer.”
  • “It means I am something good for God.”
  • “It means I am a creation of God.”
  • “It means God created me because I am one of his works of art.”

What changes do you see in the students?

(These questions were answered by staff members who work with the kids on a daily basis.)

  • “Many times they suffer from abuse or lack of attention at home. The camp helped Oscar* and the other kids feel free and free to be themselves. He is more expressive.”
  • “Ana Gloria learned to express herself better, to share, and to work in a team. A thousand thanks for the time you took to plant these seeds in the kids.”
  • “Edgar is better at working with others and working in groups.”
  • “Daniela participates more and communicates better. For the kids, the camp was an opportunity to express themselves in a way that doesn’t make them feel vulnerable.”

Thank you for making these stories possible. Your support is helping to change the lives of the neediest among us, to make them full.

*Names have been changed to protect the children’s privacy.

Why Mission?

Daughter with Daughter. Athentikos: I AM ART

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Why Mission?

The idea of a mission trip is daunting for most people. Anyone over the age of 6 has responsibilities and connections that beg us not to go. Add in caring for others and reporting to the people who electronically deposit your paycheck, and well, it’s tough. Of course there’s also fundraising and the acknowledgement that your heart will emotionally split right open. Then there’s the discomfort of the unknown, possible language barriers, and the threat of illness. Who wants to sign up?

No joke, all of that is true! But this would be a terrible promotion for mission trips if I didn’t suggest all the grace and growth you can gain too. I AM ART taught me that pain leads to growth. Heartbreak, grief, disappointment, struggle, and sadness can lead to a deeper understanding of love, joy, perspective, and contentment. Choosing to engage in mission is a subconscious decision to welcome grace into our lives.

My decision to travel to Guatemala with Athentikos for I AM ART at the Oasis Home For Girls, was a longing for healing and perspective after the deaths of my brother and mother, and to feel connected to my nephew that was born in the beautiful, yet complicated country of Guatemala. Knowing the story of Athentikos and the work they are lovingly committed to, I knew the perspective of my grief and the outlook on my world would change. I was pretty sure my heart would break deeper from observing and hearing the stories of people around me, but I was also confident I would feel a sense of healing by sharing my heart, humor, and empathy with the people I would met.

My heart did break open, many times for many reasons, but what continued to draw me back to center was the love that so obviously surrounded me. One of the most profound days on my trip was during “Conflict Day” when our class was invited to share our story with one another. I was asked to share what brought me to art camp. Through sloppy tears, and many pauses, I shared my heartache and fear with the girls. One of the older girls, Sondra, prayed for me with our group in such a detailed and beautiful way. She prayed for my courage and peace to trust God’s love for me and to release my fear. This girl, who had been removed from her home and family to heal from a crime committed against her … was praying for me. These beautiful children, even the girl mothering her own child, were lifting me up despite their own fears, heartbreak, and brokenness. We looked at each other and knew we are different, but our brokenness and humanness made us know and love each other deeper. Despite the pain, there was still so much joy and love.

[/vc_column_text][mk_gallery images=”7957,7958,7959,7960″ column=”2″][vc_column_text]From an early age, I have known the brevity of life. This has encouraged me to consider how I want to spend my time here while I have it. I have a servant’s heart, so naturally, some of my most profound understandings have come from serving others. I encourage you to discover your gifts and then use them in service to others. When you discover that treasure inside you and then give it away to a greater purpose, it fuels you in a way that has no need for caffeine or sleep. Well, maybe sleep and a little caffeine, but it is a force that can’t be denied.

Our world is straight up nuts right now. It’s scary and often it seems we’re either too afraid to or too numb to respond. Trying to understand one another is like wading through mud. Where do we step first? What if there’s conflict or pain along the way? What if we’re judged harshly by what our heart is feeling? And even worse, what if we do nothing? We are made for loving one another. Even the folks that get right under our skin and squirm around. Yes … we’re meant for loving them too.

[/vc_column_text][mk_gallery images=”7956,7962″ column=”2″][vc_column_text]While trying how to figure out a difficult relationship, I read a devotional that described a woman who kept asking God to change the other person so it would be easier to share her love. The answer God revealed to her was asking her to consider how HE loved the “difficult” person and asked her to try loving her in the same way. Perspective, it changes everything.

When we enter mission with an open heart and mind, and with the understanding we will occasionally be uncomfortable, magic happens … Grace happens. That grace helps us meet each other with a clearer vision that we are all connected. And, when we acknowledge we belong to one another our response changes. Our hearts soften, our ability to listen deepens, and our empathy allows us to respond in a more meaningful way.

Athentikos is planning two I AM ART camps in Guatemala this fall. The regular registration deadline is August 15. Take a look, and listen to your heart. Even if this is just a seed planted for another time, take a few minutes to see grace in action.[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”x-large” url=”” fullwidth=”true” bg_color=”#dd9933″ btn_hover_txt_color=”#dd3333″]Click here to learn about I AM ART Fall 2016[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Wound Is Where The Light Shines Through

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I am sitting here at Lake Atitlan reflecting on my second I am art trip. Winding down and preparing to head home. This is actually my fourth trip to Guatemala in about 2 years. I came here originally to visit my son and family who were missionaries at the time. Earlier that year, my wife of 42 years passed away suddenly and I lost my job. It was a stressful year and honestly, I was angry with God for the tragic changes in my life. When I visited my son, he was providing food for about 50 homes in need in the area around Guatemala City. I ended up spending a day at a beautiful children’s home in Escuintla. I returned the following year with my church on a mission trip and I stayed on to visit the home in Escuintla. I have a degree in art and began painting seriously after my wife’s death. The year before she died, I felt lead to paint a large mural in the new addition to my church of Jesus seated and surrounded by children.  I had never attempted anything like that and after my wife’s death, I felt God was calling me to paint and I poured my grief into my painting.

While attending church in Guatemala with my church missions group, I met Rolando Monterroso who was filling in for the pastor that day. He found out I had painted a mural at my church. He started talking to me about I Am Art. The next day I found myself stranded for the day in Guatemala City waiting for my ride to Escuintla and Rolando showed me the mural at La Limonada and I was awestruck. We talked about I Am Art and Athentikos. I felt God had sent Rolando to me that day. Rolando called Amelia and Scott then and there to sign me up for the next trip. Honestly I was overwhelmed and skeptical of what was happening.  Here I was contemplating coming back to a foreign country after only ever leaving the US once. I came home unsure of the commitment I was making. But as we all know, God has a plan. Through that one mural that God led me to paint, I began my journey and a new life for me. At present, I’m working with 2 other artists creating the story of the Bible with 26 murals and transitions that upon completion, will be over a quarter of a mile long.

As awesome as that is, nothing compares to my two experiences with I Am Art. The first trip was to a home for sexually abused girls called Oasis. Initially was I very nervous and although I knew God sent me there, the unknown is always a little scary and so much in my life had changed. The experience at Oasis was amazing. I finally felt that my artistic ability that God gave me was being put to use. Spending an entire week with these girls was so moving. Just watching and seeing the arts impact their lives for 1 week and realizing that 1 week would in some way affect their lives long term and give them hope. Using my art as a tool to show them the love of God is always there. As impacted as obviously their lives were, mine was irrevocably changed forever.  That trip led to this trip to LA Limonada. After spending a lot of time working with kids in several locations and my fantastic experience at Oasis, I thought I was prepared for my experience at La Limonada.


To go into the slums of Guatemala City gave me a glimpse of their lives. Spending time with the children was the most moving experience of my life. Seeing God and Jesus working in the lives of these children was beyond description. The people who dedicate their lives to helping these kids are amazing and in themselves a blessing from God.  Walking into some of the most dangerous parts of Guatemala City and seeing first hand the poverty and the people while standing with young men sniffing glue and seeing the hopelessness in their faces brought me to tears. I Am Art uses artists to bring hope to these kids.  To be able to work with I Am Art is a privilege and a blessing and will undoubtably change your  life forever as it did mine. I Am Art opened my eyes to the most important way that I can use the gift of my artistic ability to impact lives for Jesus. I will continue to work with I Am Art as much as possible and as God leads me, I will follow his plan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”7931,7925,7924,7929,7928,7927,7926,7930″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Stories Are Written One Chapter At A Time

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The week of IAA has come to a close…what a full week it was!

The entire experience was a time to learn, to create, to make new friends, to listen, to communicate, and to grow. The children of La Limonada were so proud of their art pieces and the chance to show them off to their families and others in the community during their art show Saturday morning. The workshop leaders were all challenged and touched by the juxtaposition of these kids being so thrilled to play with balloons and create toilet paper costumes for their leaders…and the extremely hard environment they are growing up in. To see them at the art camp location, one would never know that these same kids have no running water, have little to no food to eat, have lost one or both parents, are often alone the majority of the day, or know loss first hand through the death of a loved one or friend. Many are confronted with gang violence on a regular basis and can walk 10 steps outside their door and see their peers using drugs or sniffing glue to get high. Many suffer abuse regularly. These are the stories of their lives.

And yet, by day 3 these children let us in, let us hear their stories, trusted us with their pain and anger, and allowed us to walk through it with them. They listened as we showed them their worth in the eyes of their Creator and shared the truth of Scripture with them. Some even encouraged our leaders when they shared their own stories of pain.

This trip was a learning trip, as the team was given opportunities to visit La Limonada and some of the kids’ homes while there. We were given the chance to pray with staff of Vidas Plenas, single mothers, children, gang members, and a very special lady that has become somewhat of a celebrity through her appearance in the Reparando film, collecting doll parts to restore it to a whole, from the Guatemala city dump. She welcomed us into her home, and shared about her current struggles, all the while displaying a deep and abiding faith in our God.

We met a man whom I have wanted to meet for several years, that is making handmade shoes in the La Limonada Community, and with the profits of the sale of the shoes, he is feeding 10 children in his community. In my book, he is a hero.  (We bought lots of shoes.)

The end of the trip was rich as we learned some essentials of Guatemala’s history by visiting the national cemetery and learning how their history has directly influenced the current, modern Guatemala. It was eye opening and helped to put a ‘WHY’ to the problems Guatemala continues to face. Interestingly enough, our own country’s actions are largely to blame.

As the trip came to a close, and we had our last team meeting, we realized that we started out as a team of strangers, but were now among new friends. Friends that experienced the rawness of the last 10 days with us and we knew that God was with us, that He had entered in. That He was working in each of us, as we sought to serve Him this week.

I am certain, that God is not yet done writing the story of I AM ART and Guatemala’s restoration. The question we leave with you is, have you considered that maybe YOUR name is included in the next chapter?[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”” fullwidth=”true” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#dd9933″]Click here to learn about I AM ART Fall 2016[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”7907,7915,7908,7910,7914,7913,7917,7916,7920,7911,7909″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Returning To Guatemala

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today was the day I have often thought about and anticipated over the last five years. Since our last visit to La Limonada in 2011. La Limonada is a place unlike any other I have ever experienced first hand. It is a place that is full of sharp contrasts, a place with beautiful people, and extremely hard lives. A place that is known for violence and poverty and crime. Even amongst Guatemala’s own people, it is known for it’s unsavory reputation. When we were in Antigua earlier this week, we were talking with someone who asked where our group was from…when we replied with what we were in Guatemala doing – facilitating and running an I Am Art camp with Athentikos for children in Zone 5 – we were given a shocked and completely surprised response. A response that said, “wow…you guys are crazy!”

But what most people don’t realize about La Limonada (Central America’s largest slum community) is that it is also a beautiful place. A place where the people living there are no different than you or I, a place where you will most likely be greeted with a hug and a smile and a Buenos Tardes as you pass them on the narrow streets. You will be welcomed into their homes and given first priority for a place to sit. Many of the residents in the slum look out for their neighbors, and are doing the best they can to raise good kids and make ends meet…you know – just like you and I.

What struck me today, as I visited the community for my third time – is that there is an amazing amount of hard work, determination, and love that has already been established in the community – that makes it even possible for a ‘gringa’ from the States to visit. This work, this labor of love, and this choosing to extend Jesus’ grace and good news of His Gospel to any and all – is the work of the amazing staff members and leader of Vidas Plenas, Tita. I affectionately call Tita a Guatemalan Mother Theresa, because, well…. few people on this planet love and live as Tita does. The beauty of the slum was first seen in her eyes, and because of her compelling to engage with the people in the community – there is now a beacon of Gods light radiating there through the work of the committed staff and Tita, and offering hope and a future to precious kids in the Academies.

I was thrilled to see kids in our art camp this week that I had first met 6 years ago. They are taller now, but they are still there – excited to participate and engage and dreaming big and wanting to do right. Learning about Christ, and thriving in an extremely difficult environment. It has blessed my soul. I will forever be grateful to Tita and her work, and thankful for my opportunities to experience the beauty that is La Limonada.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”7875,7872,7871,7869″ column=”4″][/vc_column][/vc_row]