What started as simple English classes in a two-bedroom apartment in Barlett has transformed into essentially one of Memphis’ welcome centers to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. As one of the instructors teaching English to internationals in that Bartlett apartment, Richard Dalton joined the staff of World Relief Memphis to extend their mission of empowering the church to serve the vulnerable by creating Connect Language Center. Dalton now serves as the education director at Connect Language Center.
Connect Language Center became a program of World Relief Memphis that offers accessible courses to international individuals who are making the United States their new home. Those who walk through the door either are immigrants seeking to learn English or, are refugees and asylum seekers who have been assigned to classes by World Relief Memphis. “At this time, we have 161 students from 28 countries,” says Dalton. Countries ranging from Venezuela to Kenya, everyone at Connect Language Center is met with the same warm welcome which many search for when starting a new life.
A goal of Connect Language Center is to create a cross-cultural relationship within the Memphis community. How do they accomplish that? Coffee. Café English provides a platform for Memphis natives to provide support and learn more about their new neighbors. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, coffee is available to purchase from the in-house Café and is used as a conversational medium to aid individuals who may have otherwise not had a reason to start a conversation. “We were very surprised at how well it worked because there were folks that met here and ended up trading numbers. They’ll go on runs and they have dinner parties and pool parties- completely outside of here. Whole friend groups have formed,” says Dalton.
One of Dalton’s favorite things about Connect Language Center is witnessing people’s misconceptions and prejudices being broken by the simplicity of interaction. Dalton discusses how the media often portrays immigrants and refugees as something they are not and he believes it to be a tired talking point. “It’s just political football. There are so many Americans that are fatigued from hearing that. I would just much rather see a human element to all of them, and that’s like front and center here,” Dalton says. One of Dalton’s fondest memories is seeing a middle-aged, white man who “bleeds the colors of the flag” breakdown from his new, budding friendship with Syrian refugees shattering his stereotype that they were threats and terrorists.
By offering English, job readiness, and Teaching English as a Foreign language classes and certification, Connect Language Center has become a beacon to those struggling to find their next step in life as an immigrant or refugee. Internationals, varying in all ages, backgrounds, and skin pigmentation, who enter Memphis are discovering who they are to be in their new home. As their neighbors, there is something we can do. “Anyone who is interested in helping can come join Café English. All it takes is a quick volunteer orientation with World Relief,” Dalton encourages.
Sign up to volunteer at worldreliefmemphis.org/volunteer-application.