Catholic Charities’ Vardaman Family Life Center tackles one of the biggest issues that disconnects neighbors – language barriers

Prior to becoming the program coordinator of the Vardaman Family Life Center, Danna Johnson volunteered at an after-school program where she taught English as a Second Language and Spanish to English speakers. Johnson’s language classes are unique because during this six-week course, the two classes come together to practice their new language skills while learning about one another's cultures.

Johnson was inspired to create the Spanish course for English speakers after learning of a need among English-speaking farmworkers and other members of the community. They expressed interest in wanting to improve their communication with their Spanish-speaking employees and neighbors. Johnson quickly found herself in the middle of these two groups wanting to enhance their skills to improve their relationships. Using the same format she used to teach her ESL classes, Johnson focused on sentence structures and vocabulary to teach Spanish to English speakers.

“This was an opportunity to integrate the different cultures,” said Johnson.

The language classes run for about a month and half with 8-10 students attending regularly. The first time the classes came together, Johnson noted that she could feel the change in the atmosphere immediately. She didn’t have to initiate the conversations among the paired students as they confidently began to communicate with one other. It was evident that the students were eager to learn about each other.

“People have become friends from these classes. It’s amazing [to see the] relationships being born,” said Johnson, as she reflects on the previous sessions of students.

Now as the program coordinator, Johnson is running their language courses using the same integration model. Although they are led mostly by volunteers and interns, Johnson hopes to create stability and consistency with the classes as she works to maintain “openness” among the community, especially as the political climate around immigration fluctuates.  

Johnson also wants to enhance and perfect the language curriculum with the help of local students and volunteers by creating an immersion program that will allow everyone in the community to participate.

CLINIC applauds Danna Johnson and her team at Catholic Charities Varadamn Family Life Center as they work to erase one of the many barrios preventing neighbors from coming together.

The Center for Immigrant Integration wants to hear from you and your community on the ways you promote integration. Email us at or tweet us at @cliniclegal.