This is Mercedes. Affectionately known to the children of Vida Joven as “Meche.”

Twenty years ago, Mercedes donned an apron and started cooking for the children at the orphanage. First eight kids. Then twelve. Then fifteen. Then twenty. Sometimes Mercedes cooked for up to forty children at Vida Joven: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Day in and day out.

The kitchen at Vida Joven is small, and adequate. It’s big enough to make tortillas, assemble tostadas, turn fresh fruit into tasty juices, simmer lentil soup, sprinkle grated cheese onto plates on spaghetti, and more. And the kitchen is small enough to feel cozy. Small enough for a child to stand at the countertop and talk with Mercedes as she cooks.

For twenty years, Mercedes has peeled, sliced, simmered, baked, and served food to the children. The Vida Joven kitchen is literally and figuratively the center of the home. Thanks to Mercedes, the children have learned what is feels like to have three healthy meals a day. They have learned how to sit down with “family” for a meal, to give thanks, to clean up afterward.

Mercedes exemplifies the kind of adult that the children of Vida Joven need: the kids need adults who will go the distance with them. The kids need adults who will be committed to them day in and day out, on the good days, the bad days, the dull days, the happy days.

Mercedes retired at the end of December 2016. The children recently welcomed her back to the orphanage so as to host a special breakfast for their former cook. After breakfast, the kids danced and sang for Mercedes, and gave her flowers and balloons.

Thank you, Mercedes, for your faithful and loving service to the children of Vida Joven. Thank you for showing us what it means to make and keep a commitment to these beautiful kids. Well done. Te agradecemos (we are so grateful for you).