Imagine having a bad dream where you step up to the cash register of a fast-food restaurant and can’t explain to the employee that you want a large Coke and chicken sandwich.
Hunger Pains or no hunger pains, if you can’t speak English, this situation isn’t a bad dream – it’s reality.
Lake Highlands resident Jeri Burdine wants to see refugees and immigrants in Dallas asking for that Coke and sandwich in English, and she is working to ensure language barriers are broken for non-English speaking people.
Burdine, 80, a charter member of the Lake Highlands United Methodist Church, 9015 Plano, says she was told by a friend in 1984 that several Laotian families in the area couldn’t speak English.
Soon, Burdine was teaching English to the families. The classes eventually evolved into the Richardson Literacy Center, where she has continued to be a volunteer trainer, teacher and board member.
“The first group of Laotian people we taught ended up with better jobs and bought homes in Garland,” Burdine says. “It’s so thrilling to see them improve themselves after learning English.”
She recently received the Golden Rule Award from JCPenney for her literacy efforts. Burdine was selected from among 300 nominees and was one of 13 winners for the region including Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton Counties.
She was presented an engraved crystal sculpture, and $1,000 was donated to the Richardson Literacy Center.
Burdine has led literacy training workshops in Irving, Garland, Mesquite and Richardson, setting up three literacy centers.
She also helped organize the Dallas County Literacy Council and was the local liaison for Project Literacy USA, the national literacy awareness program.
English is the only language Burdine speaks. She teaches English using the Laubach Literacy Method, which she learned from a good friend who was a minister at her church.
“I know ‘un pequeno, un pequeno Espanol.’ I tell my students that I know just enough that you better not talk about me,” Burdine says, laughing. Besides all of her literacy activities, she is involved in My Guardian Angel, a program that helps children copy with divorce and loss in their families.
Burdine moved to Dallas in 1955 and worked as a dietitian at Baylor Hospital and Neiman Marcus, using her dietetics degree from UCLA. She later obtained a home-making degree, which she used to teach home-making classes to junior high and high school students for several years.
Burdine is the mother of two children. Her son is the assistant city manager in Pearland, Texas, and her daughter was a Plano teacher when she died from cancer in 1985.