BY SUMMER STAIR

 

Immigration is often a volatile topic. Everyone has a different opinion, and so addressing the issues that go with it can be daunting. For immigrants themselves, it sometimes feels as though immigration can close as many doors as it opens. However, attaining citizenship can be an uplifting occasion worth smiling about.
It was because of these reasons that Lee Shainis, co-founder and executive director of Intercambio Uniting Communities in Longmont, began a nonprofit organization to help immigrants unite with their community and those who live in it.
“Intercambio has provided English classes and cultural integration programs to 7,000 residents in 45 countries in Boulder and the St. Vrain Valley for a decade,” Shainis says. “Many struggle to maintain a decent standard of living and provide for their families, and Intercambio has helped to ease that stuggle.”
Through workshops, classes and new programs, Intercambio  finds itself

Intercambio hosts an annual Chautauqua Hike. Lee Shainis, co-founder and executive director of Intercambio, is in the front row holding up peace signs. (Courtesy Intercambio)

offering help in places they didn’t find themselves before. Through Intercambio and School
Together, Intercambio and its volunteers help immigrants integrate themselves into the school system.  “The problem is the parents don’t know each other because of the English barrier. So we have English speaking parents talking and helping the other parents,” Shainis says. “They can talk a lot about the cultural differences and find out how to interact with the schools.”
 Another program Intercambio has incorporated is building cultural awareness training. In this program, Intercambio speaks with the English-speaking community and discusses culture as a whole and how it impacts everyone in the community.
Intercambio holds monthly events free of charge, in addition to offering dance and fitness sessions at the Boulder office and the YMCA in Longmont. The programs are unique, because they go beyond the classroom and directly reflect the needs of the students.