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Intercambio’s new CEO hopes to scale national impact

John Lopez comes to organization with leadership background and immigrant experience
John Lopez

The new leader of the Boulder County-based organization that connects English learners to the resources they need has an intimate knowledge of the immigrant experience.

Intercambio announced this month that John Lopez would be succeeding Lee Shainis, co-founder and executive director of 21 years, as CEO. Intercambio is a nonprofit with offices in Longmont and Boulder that creates programs, trainings and curriculum where all participants learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives.

Lopez, who currently lives in Broomfield, moved to the U.S. from Belize as a child and holds dual citizenship in each country. He served in the U.S. Navy after high school, working in a variety of nonprofit, corporate and government roles throughout his life, and still travels to Belize every couple months.

“I have a visceral, deep understanding of what the immigrant journey looks like,” he said. “Granted, when I came to the country I spoke English already, but I still needed to understand the customs, the culture, the manner of communication, the mannerisms and all the nuances of being functional in a new society.”

Lopez found the Intercambio position by accident when he was reviewing a job posting for a different organization. He was quickly drawn to the organization’s unique work and overarching goals.

“The mission of the organization, just trying to make an impact in people’s lives in a significant way,” he said. “I’m passionate about organizational leadership, education, underserved populations, those are just things that drew me to the position.”

Lopez comes to Intercambio with over two decades of professional leadership experience in nonprofit, public and private sectors, including education. While at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, he led the regional growth of a network of colleges and universities culminating in approximately 2,000 members nationally over four years.

Lopez has written the book on immigrant experience, “An Immigrant in the C-Suite: From the Journey, Lessons for the Business Community.” He believes these experiences make him uniquely suited for filling the large shoes of Intercambio’s original founder.

“Having been through the journey from immigrating to the country to getting to certain levels of corporate America, I feel I can be a good ambassador for telling that story,” Lopez said.

Lopez started his role earlier this month and was quick to attend classes at the Longmont office. He said he was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of students.

“They’re so excited about learning English and so committed to it, even though learning a language and immersing yourself in a new culture is uncomfortable for some and overly intimidating for others,” he said. “I was kind of struck by how excited they were just to be there, to be among each other and trying to learn English.”

While there are quite a few Latin American students, many from Mexico, Lopez was also impressed by the vast range of international students coming from places as far as Jordan, Israel, China and Slovakia.

Lopez said his biggest goal is to set Intercambio up in the coming years for local and national growth. He added that the organization is already in good shape to scale, and he hopes to help it become an organization with a national reach.

Amy Golden

About the Author: Amy Golden

I grew up in Colorado Springs and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
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