Intercambio: Uniting Communities

Jonah Meyers

Intercambio was founded in 2000 by Lee Shainis and Shawn Camden and quickly grew from English classes in Shainis’s basement into a highly respected non-profit organization operating in several towns in Boulder County, Colorado. Intercambio’s mission is to make the ethnically diverse communities in Boulder County more safe, friendly and economically prosperous through their broad-ranging immigrant integration program.

We see that everyone is better off when the immigrants here are contributing, when they can communicate, when they’re participating in schools, when they feel confident,” says Shainis. “We’re also better off when we don’t have huge barriers across culture and language.

Currently Intercambio has offices in Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont that offer seven levels of English as a Second Language, citizenship, English for Entrepreneurs, cultural training, computer literacy, financial literacy, and civics classes. Classes cost between $20-$50 per 9-week session, with the exception of free citizenship classes. The organization also receives funding from private individuals, foundation grants, local governments, and by selling curriculums it has developed to hundreds of organizations around the country. 

Through the Uniting Resources webpage, organizations can order English language booklets, pre-tests and pronunciation guides, as well as immigrant guides and conversation booklets all for free or for a small fee. Over 700 organizations worldwide use these materials., and Intercambio states that they have impacted over 150,000 people.

Intercambio relies on volunteers to teach its classes. The volunteer model allows the organization to dedicate money that would be adequate for hiring only a few full-time teachers towards training 500 volunteers. This large amount of community participation allows them to encourage community building, part of their mission. Through this service delivery model, more immigrants enrolled in their classes are likely to recognize native English speakers outside of class, develop friendships with them and continue to value the intercultural friendships.

Shainis thinks that it is “better when we can communicate with our neighbors, and better for our economy when we do not have to rely on interpreters for everything.” Despite the difficulty of having a relatively transient immigrant population in Boulder County, Intercambio has taught approximately 9000 immigrants English using about 4500 volunteer teachers since 2001.This ratio shows their commitment to creating a more friendly, intercultural community.

Besides offering practical life skills, the integration organization also tracks how welcoming Boulder County feels to immigrants through pre-class and post-class tests. Intercambio is interested in a holistic approach to immigrant integration; one activity they coordinate to encourage this is La Fiesta, Boulder’s largest multicultural event.

Intercambio has strong community partnerships to which they refer clients for services not provided in-house, such as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinic in Boulder for tax preparation assistance, and the Immigration Legal Center of Boulder County. In 2015, Intercambio plans to introduce a new English curriculum centered on increasing parent involvement in their children’s’ education. Intercambio: Uniting Communities is excited about helping organizations without English programs start one, and helping to improve other organizations’ existing English programs.

If you have an integration initiative that you would like CLINIC to highlight, please contact Leya Speasmaker, Integration Program Manager, at