One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras is a country still trying to recover from recent wars and has an overwhelming number of children whose parents are unable to provide for them. Amigos de Jesus (Friends of Jesus), a Catholic orphanage, offers a refuge for abandoned and abused boys.
The orphanage was co-founded in 1997 by Sister Teresita, S.S.N.D., a Honduran nun, Reverend Dennis O' Donnell, rector of the Malvern Retreat House in Malvern, PA, Anthony Granese, a 1990 Civil Engineering Villanova alumnus, and his wife, Christine. The mission of the orphanage is to provide the boys the opportunity to grow-up in a loving environment where they will receive a formal education and a lifelong skill such as farming, welding, or carpentry. In late December 1999, Anthony Granese approached Drs. David Dinehart and Shawn Gross with the idea of developing a relationship between Villanova and the orphanage.
At the time, work on a two-story reinforced concrete structure to house the children and the administrators of the orphanage was almost complete, and construction of a second similar structure had been initiated. The design of another building for the orphanage, while within the scope of a capstone course, did not meet the current needs of the orphanage. At the initial meeting the idea of building a cross on a hill overlooking the orphanage was discussed. The cross would serve as a symbol of hope for the boys of the orphanage and for the inhabitants of the surrounding villages in the valley. The design of this special structure in a Third World country would offer the students interesting design challenges, tie directly to the University's Catholic mission, and provide the feasibility of being constructed in one week. Consequently, plans were made to focus the initial course around the design and construction of a 25-foot tall reinforced concrete cross.
In 2001, 2002, and 2003, the course focused on the design and construction of a 30' x 60' reinforced concrete structure that would serve as a chapel and a volunteer center (residence). In 2001, nine students and the two faculty members traveled to Honduras over Spring Break to begin construction on the structure. Seven foundations were completed and construction commenced on the masonry walls. In 2002, a group of fifteen, including nine undergraduate students, worked on several of the columns for the structure. In 2003, a group of thirteen students and faculty constructed scaffolding and a support slab for the second floor of the structure.
In 2004, the Villanova-Amigos de Jesus partnership continued, and the course focused on the development of initial designs for a school on the Amigos property. During the trip, students performed site surveys related to the school and worked on the construction of a retaining wall behind the chapel/volunteer center. Two mechanical engineering students joined the group of nine civil engineers, and also worked on the development of a backup power generator.
The partnership continued in the Spring of 2005, with work on the complete design and layout of a school complex. When finished in early 2006, the complex will consist of eight buildings, including classrooms, laboratories, an administration building, and a bathroom facility. Fifteen students and faculty traveled to Honduras to construct foundations for one of the classroom buildings. Additionally, faculty members in the Environmental and Mechanical Engineering disciplines traveled to investigate potential future projects.
In October 2005, a multidisciplinary group of fifteen students, including twelve from Engineering as well as two Nursing students and one student from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, traveled to the site. The group worked on foundations for the school administration building and identified possible senior design projects in the Structural, Environmental, and Mechanical Engineering areas.
The eighth Villanova - Amigos mission trip took place in March 2006, with a group of thirteen students and faulty traveling to continue work on the school complex.