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Intercambio Hosts Underwater World Party

September 9, 2018
Intercambio Hosts Underwater World Party

From left, Karina Xaubet, Trina the Mermaid and David Mitchell have a photo taken during the La Fiesta Underwater World Party that benefits Intercambio held at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont on Saturday. See more photos at dailycamera.com.

An exhibit hall at the Boulder County Fairgrounds started to fill with people Saturday evening, many of them in underwater or ocean-themed costumes as part of Intercambio’s La Fiesta World Party.

“It’s always a unique mix of people,” said Intercambio Executive Director and Founder Lee Shanis. “It’s always something people look forward to.”

The party, now in its 17th year, had an underwater theme, and the inside of the exhibit hall was decorated with seashells, including a large clam inside which people posed for photos. Outside, as it is with any event in Boulder County, a clutch of food trucks was serving international fare.

The event benefits Boulder nonprofit Intercambio, which teaches English and cultural skills to immigrants, but Shanis said that it’s mostly for fun and doesn’t bring in a ton of money.

“We call it a ‘funraiser,’” he said.

The first La Fiesta Party, held in 2002, drew 1,300 people, and Intercambio Marketing and Communications Manager Maye Cordova said that the event moved from Boulder to Longmont in the past few years because the turnout has continued to increase.

The organization started in 2001 as a way to help recent immigrants transition into American culture and life, but organizers at the party said that volunteer teachers often forge long-lasting friendships with their students and learn as much as they teach. A selection of photographs of volunteers and their students graced the inside of the exhibit hall, each with a story of friendships that arose.

“The learning goes both ways,” Shanis said.

He said that Boulder has immigrants from a wider variety of countries, but Longmont likely has the largest immigrant population, mostly people from Latin America. He added that currently Longmont and Lafayette have the greatest need for volunteers.

He added that about 1,200 students will come to Intercambio a year and there are currently 100 people on a waiting list for one-on-one classes.

Cordova said the organization develops curriculums for a wide variety of language proficiency levels, and people from about 51 countries take the classes.

“Most of our volunteers are retired people,” Cordova said. “They might be looking for a new purpose.”

She added that not all volunteers are former teachers, and lawyers, bankers and people in finance have signed up to teach classes, which can be in groups or one-on-one.

“We have training for life skills, practical English,” she said. “People learn about going to a doctor’s appointment or a parent/teacher conference or how to go to the bank and conduct a transaction without an interpreter.”

Marcie Gorman Smith, national program director, said the organization has about 600 active partners in 44 states with which it has shared its curricula and programs. Training is an ongoing process, and active partners with 25 or more students can request training up to six times per year.

She added that language programs nationally have their own way of doing certain things, and Intercambio tries to share its curricula in a way that those other organizations don’t “have to reinvent the wheel.”

“It’s like franchising without the branding,” Gorman-Smith said. “We recognize all the programs out in the country are their own brand.”

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