This content was originally published by the Longmont Observer and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
Throughout this crisis, Intercambio has been actively referring immigrants to resources, as well as unlocking new skills for English learners and their teachers, in a time where it’s more important than ever to be able to communicate well to access resources.
Intercambio has been on the front lines of providing information and resources to the immigrant community of Boulder County, many of whom were among the first to lose their jobs, are the least connected to safety nets in the community, and often struggle with feeling isolated.
Some of the calls they’ve received have been:
"I was laid off, should I get a loan to pay my rent?"
"I lost my job, and I qualify for government benefits, do you think I can apply for unemployment?"
"How do I prevent my family from getting sick with Coronavirus?"
"How can I keep learning English?"
"I'm feeling stressed out, who can help?"
“We are reaching out to the immigrant community to provide emotional support, a listening ear, connection to the few resources that are available, especially for those that might not be able to access federal help,” said Norma Fuentes, Director of Student Services with Intercambio.
The core of Intercambio programs is teaching English and connecting people. They train volunteers to teach English to immigrant adults, and in the process are bridging communities across language and cultural barriers.
“We recognize we have a unique position in our community, seen as one of the trusted resources for the immigrant community. Over the last 19 years we’ve taught over 10,000 immigrants and many consider us like family, so they know they can call on us to help navigate services,” said Lee Shainis, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Intercambio.
English can be a life and death situation in the time of a pandemic. Martha Galvan, an English student with Intercambio, was hospitalized for a week recently. She said often there weren’t translators available, but she was confident enough with her English to understand or ask questions to clarify what they were telling her. “English is so important if you get sick!” says Galvan.
People like her are still highly motivated to increase their English abilities.
This crisis has caused Intercambio to innovate, since students and teachers cannot be in the same room any longer. Last week, 70 adult English learners and 6 teachers began virtual group classes using Zoom, and dozens of our 1-on-1 classes are still meeting consistently online. “We are excited to pilot, learn, adjust, and grow this program,” said Shainis. “This is a tool and skills that will serve our students well, and will enable people to continue learning, even if we start to see cycles of stay-at-home orders.”
Intercambio announced an important initiative, Connected for Life, in response to these turbulent times. This initiative is replacing the organization’s only annual fundraising event, Comedy for Cambio, which was cancelled. Now more than ever it is important to raise support so that English language education, resources, and training can thrive. These create meaningful connections, build cultural awareness, and inspire confidence.
“We’ll get through this and emerge even stronger thanks to amazing support over the years and our resilient community!” Shainis said.
To get involved, visit intercambio.org/donate.
To see a video from Lee Shainis, Executive Director, click here: