DONNA, RGV – The term Public-Private Partnership is usually used to denote a governmental body working on a project with the private sector.

At a ceremony north of Donna on Wednesday evening, however, it will signify the Catholic Church collaborating with a private landowner, private companies and health and educational institutions to produce a unique outreach ministry.

The Bonham Family, well-known citrus growers in the Rio Grande Valley, are donating 14 acres for a project run by the Diocese of Brownsville that will include a healthcare clinic, and education center, retail stores, a café, recreational sports such as soccer and volleyball, a community garden, a hiking and walking trail, a farming field school and a farmer’s market. A parameter trail, eight feet wide, uses guidelines developed by Texas Parks & Wildlife.

The development is to be called Plaza Amistad. The location is on Mile 13, just west of Salinas Boulevard, north of Donna, Texas. The ceremony will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29.

Miguel Santos

“I would say it is a private-public-non-profit-partnership. As the non-profit, the Diocese is the leading agent,” said Miguel Santos, director of strategic planning for the Diocese of Brownsville.

Kyndel Bennett, son of Becky Bonham, said: “It is extremely exciting for the family. It is an exciting public-private partnership that I would consider a win-win for all involved. A win for the Catholic Church, a win for the community in Donna, which is where I grew up and where my family has deep roots, and a win for my family. I think we are honoring the work the family did in the early agricultural years of the Valley. It is a project we are all excited about and I am looking forward to tomorrow.”

A brochure produced by developers to explain Plaza Amistad defines P3 as:

A public-private partnership (P3) is a contractual arrangement between a public agency (federal, state or local) and a private sector entity. Through this agreement, the skills and assets of each sector (public and private) are shared in delivering a service or facility for the use of the general public.

Santos has been working on the Plaza Amistad project for the best part of six months with marketing consultant Patti Sunday. He said the aim is to make the project self-sustaining.

“While there will be an initial outlay of funding by the Diocese, the idea is to partner with different entities that can bring to the table their particular expertise. Our interest is to partner with different institutions who can each be responsible for the operations of their specific part of the project.”

Sunday acknowledged that some people might be surprised to see the Catholic Church getting involved in a P3 project. “But think about it, the Diocese is, in a way, a municipality. There are 72 churches and 45 missions, each of them is like a baby town. So why can’t a faith-organization with a great footprint on the ground, do a P-3? Who said it has to be a municipality? That is the premise.”

Sunday said the idea for the P-3 project came about when she and Sister Norma Pimentel were in Colorado for a conference two years ago. Pimentel was due to speak at the conference. Sunday said while she was there she attended a workshop put on by FEMA about public-private partnerships. She said she started on the project with the Bonham family’s donation about nine months ago.

Sunday she has been overwhelmed by the level of interest shown in the project.

“Every single person I have gone to on this has said, I love it, how can I help. Someone in a restaurant overheard what we were talking about and came up to me and said: I overheard you, I am interested. That person is now providing the food and cocktails. Every person says, I love it, I get it. They love the ecumenical part. Everybody likes the, ‘let’s build a model that’s sustainable’ part.”

Jim Glusing, an associate professor in the department of civil and architectual engineering and director of the Institute for Architectual Enginneering Heritage at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, said 15 of his sophomore students are designing the commercial and medical architectural components of Plaza Amistad.

“It has been a great pleasure to have this opportunity and my students are greatly enjoying it. It fits in very neatly with the fact that engineering in the American Society of Civil Engineers is very keen on making sure that we instill a habit of service in our students, our country’s future engineers. The university is also very supportive of service-learning projects. So this has been a very good opportunity for our students. It fits in with what both the ASCE and the university find as being key features, with attributes they want to see instilled in our students,” Glusing told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“I cannot tell you how important it is or how much additional value our students get out of projects that are real-world projects. They are seeing themselves as having an impact. And while they know that their project isn’t going to be selected as the one being built, they are hoping they can give ideas that might be picked up on by the architect that actually do the real design.”

Santos said the Diocese of Brownsville will not be dispensing charity in the traditional sense at Plaza Amistad.

“It is noble in a way that we are looking at ways in which the community can help the community – where people help people help themselves. It is not your traditional charity model, but rather a place where people will be able congregate, will be able to develop skills, will find a place where people will feel equipped and empowered and have a beautiful space for families to come together,” Santos said.

“There will be a Catholic Church, a parish, in the future, in phase two of the project. All in all, it is based on the premise of human dignity, of both solidarity and subsidiarity, of not just giving them a handout but a hand up.”

Fast Growth

Santos said the Diocese of Brownsville hired UT-Rio Grande Valley to study projected high-growth areas in the Valley where new outreach ministries might be needed in the future.

“Thanks to that study we were able to identify where pockets of population that will be blossoming in the next five years. As a result, we have identified two areas of pastoral priority for Bishop Flores and the Diocese of Brownsville. One is the corridor north of Pharr to north Weslaco. That entire corridor north of the expressway is seeing explosive growth, and most of our parishes are located south of the expressway, because that is where the population was 100 years ago,” Santos said.

“So, responding to this need we have identified Donna as one of the strategic locations for a Catholic Church to serve these colonias and these communities that are currently underserved. The other area of pastoral priority is west of Mission, between Mission and La Joya – the Palmview, Penitas area.”

If Plaza Amistad proves a success, the Diocese of Brownsville will look to replicate it in other needy areas, Santos said.

“Our hope is to develop a model that can be scaled elsewhere. As the Catholic Church we have a ground game where we can potentially respond to the needs of the people in different parts of the country. If we develop a model that can be scaled elsewhere, that other dioceses can replicate, this work would spread, and we could help people in other parts of the country.”

Santos said he would like to give a shout-out to the Bonham family.

“The land donation is the anchor that allows us to move this project forward. Without having the land, it is nothing but conceptual, the land is the very first step in materializing this community development, this community center.”

Asked how long it has taken to develop the project, Santos said: “The better half of six months. It has come together very quickly. I have to give a shout-out to Ms. Patti Sunday who has been the driving force behind a lot of this work.”

Santos also said the project could not have happened without the support and blessing of Bishop Daniel Flores.

“We are blessed to have a bishop, Bishop Flores, who is very forward thinking and driven by responding to the needs of the people and who wants to be a positive force in the community at large, Catholic or non-Catholic.”

Watermill Express Foundation is the first corporate partner named in the project. Lani Dolifka, representing Watermill, said:

“Helping the community with a sustainable model provides a long-term solution. The Border is a vibrant and productive community that can lead the nation in sustainable private/public partnerships. Faith partners coming together to support area needs is based on helping the community at large, no matter what religion or ethnicity a client may have. Being a part of the solution to bring needed services to the area focuses on what we can do locally to help one another.”

The Bonham Family

Here are biographical details on the Bonham Family:

Kenneth Wayne Bonham was born on September 13, 1893, in Blaine, Oklahoma Territory (a few years before Oklahoma became a state). Ken grew up in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, a few miles southwest of Sallisaw. His family farm was well-known in the area, and was considered to be a giant farming operation at that time.

Ken married Gertrude Simmons from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, on June 24, 1917. Ken and Gertrude moved to Arkansas, and settled into life in Garland City, Arkansas. Together, Ken and Gertrude had two children: Corinne Gertrude in 1919, and Kenneth Wayne, Jr., in 1921. Always a doting father, he demonstrated a remarkable sense of humor in the funny stories he would tell his children as they grew up. He could entertain them for hours with stories of conversations between their pet dog and cat, or what funny antics the chickens were up to.

In 1924, Ken moved to the Rio Grande Valley of deep South Texas. He wrote of his adventures in the Valley, and mailed letters to his family. These letters were full of imaginative adventures, and his children looked forward to hearing from their father. In 1925, Ken had settled sufficiently and was able to bring his family down to the Valley. The family lived in the Hargill and Edcouch area for a few years, until finally settling down in Edinburg.

Ken’s children, Corinne and Wayne, grew up to be outstanding adults. Corinne married Dayton Thomas, and eventually settled in Houston, Texas. They had two sons, Larry and Chris. Wayne joined the army, married Venita (Nita) Bost, and later settled in Edinburg, Texas, where they raised two daughters, Becky and Vicki.

Ken never lost his love for agriculture. His primary interests were citrus and cotton, and he excelled at producing both crops. He and Wayne formed a partnership that brought the father and son even closer together. They farmed, owned two cotton gins in Hargill, Texas, produced citrus, and were active in the community. Both served on the board of Texas Citrus Mutual, and were elected as Directors. Both were members of the First United Methodist Church in Edinburg. They both enjoyed traveling, spending time with friends, and (most of all) being wonderful patriarchs of their loving family.

Ken was known as Daddy Bonham not only to his grandchildren, but to all their friends. He would have liked to spend more time with his two grandsons, but they simply lived too far away. He did, however, spend a great deal of time with his granddaughters. He took them (and their friends) camping at Garner State Park, taught them to ride horses, taught them to drive a car, and was always available to tell a funny story, or just to give them a hug. “Weenie” roasts were a common occurrence when Daddy Bonham had a carload of giggling girls with him. He always found time to stop and help a turtle cross the road. He shared his love for animals with those around him, especially his granddaughters. Both Becky and Vicki agree, he was “The World’s Greatest Grandfather.” Ken left this world on September 20, 1975, and is still very much loved and missed.

Wayne followed in his father’s footsteps and excelled in the agriculture industry. The two cotton gins were combined into one facility; he built a grain elevator in Hargill, and continued to be a respected citrus producer. He always found time to be a great father, and was extremely active in whatever his daughters were interested in at the moment. If they were in the school band, he was active in the Band Boosters. If one daughter had a Girl Scout project, he was available for advice. If a daughter was running barrels at the local rodeo, he’d be there with her mother, cheering loudly from the bleachers. If anyone needed a helping hand, Wayne was there for them.

After losing his beloved wife, Nita, in 1980, Wayne married Juliet (Judy) Pursley. She and her two sons, Terry and Larry Pursley were warmly welcomed into the Bonham family. Wayne once said that people are lucky when they find the “Love of their Life”, but he had been doubly lucky because he had found two of them. During their later years, Wayne and Judy enjoyed spending time with their grandchildren, and traveling the world.

Wayne succeeded in passing along his love for the agriculture industry to his daughters. Both Becky and Vicki served on Texas Citrus Mutual, operate the cotton gin and grain elevator in Hargill, and produce citrus. The sisters actively manage the family farm, and love the land. Wayne passed on his legacy, as he left this world on November 16, 2011.

Both Ken and Wayne Bonham were admired and respected businessmen and members of the community. They lived a life of honor, loyalty, compassion, integrity, courage, and dedication. They were examples not only for their family, but to everyone around them.

Here is the official mission, purpose and vision of Plaza Amistad:


In Spanish, Amistad means friendship. We research and create solutions and friendships inspired by the wisdom and vision of Pope Francis. We realize and embrace his current broad call of encounter and service.


Create and continually refine a 3P style platform with the CDOB to create new and novel solutions in wellness. Encounter the community where they are with spirit-led meaningful support and sustainable solutions, relieve angst, offer hope, and inspire teamwork and innovation.


Amistad seeks to foster unusual friendships and shared outcomes.

We want to create exemplary and novel community approaches, and demonstrate best practices of stewardship. We work using lean models from capitalism and for-profit wisdoms to create long term impact and improvements. We welcome and seek unexpected partners and advisors. We focus on illuminating facts and truths. We communicate up and downstream without bias. We aspire that some projects will propel ideas for other global needs or solutions. We seek input and wisdom from both traditional expected sources (CEOs, other faith partners) and under-utilized segments of society (students, refugees, and prisoners).

We strive to be smart, frugal and transparent with cash donations. The goal is self-sustainability once infrastructure and services are seeded.

The brochure on Plaza Amistad also lists its features. Here they are:

14 acres

This farm was donated in the spirit of Amistad through the generosity of the Bonhams, a Baptist family. We will deliver a new, beautiful destination center that addresses total wellness and builds community through sports, recreation, gardening, basic retail services, and a relevant place of worship.

Health Services

Bring health and wellness education to the poor and uninsured community of Donna, Texas, and surrounding areas. Bring immediate health care services using the mobile clinic and eventually begin cash pay services, similar to the Mexican border model.

Mixed Demographics

Sustainability is poised on mass appeal. Plaza Amistad will attract a variety of community neighbors through: 1) Carefully targeted basic services such as clinic, clean vended water, and laundromat. 2) Destination services such as a walking trail, regulation soccer fields, farming education and a farmer’s market.

Recreational Sports

Activities available on the land: soccer, volleyball, playground, café, hiking and walking trail