Lee Shainis’ office at Intercambio Uniting Communities is draped in the garb of many cultures. The walls house Ghanaian traditional attire, a Costa Rican embroidered vest, a gifted painting from Venezuela and even his own multicolored abstract piece. The footprints of cultural fusion are evident even in the subtle inflection that seems to have crept into his native Marylander voice after years of speaking Spanish.
“We don’t just want to cut onions and clean bathrooms here, we want to make an impact,” the Intercambio executive director recalls a student saying.
Intercambio Uniting Communities is a nonprofit in Boulder and Longmont with a mission to build understanding, respect and friendship across diverse communities and make possible the genuine community impact that may elude non-English speaking immigrants. The main way the organization does that is by mobilizing a network of volunteers to tutor non- English speaking immigrants in the finer points of the language.
Shainis hopes that hosting a party at Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, featuring three-time Grammy-winning band Ozomatli, will help build awareness of Intercambio’s mission and attract volunteers.
Intercambio offers volunteer-taught English classes for immigrants, classes and workshops on life skills, citizenship and cultural training and events for the community. But more than that, Shainis says, Intercambio offers an affable face for immigrant community members who might not find one elsewhere.
“It’s the root of war globally, this stuff, this communication and understanding. The fundamental goal of Intercambio is for people to be able to see differences and observe differences,” he says.
“I don’t see the work that I do as charity stuff; it’s more just connecting with people and elevating ourselves together. I always learn from everything I do,” he says.
Intercambio served approximately 1,000 students in 2012 and has an extensive waiting list. The organization hopes to increase the number served by 300 this year, but that progress will require increased volunteer numbers.
“It’s hard to see people that really want to learn, and I know that the volunteers are out there,” Shainis says. “We are focusing on reaching those people and trying to increase the overall visibility of Intercambio.”
This is where Culture Jam and Ozomatli’s performance comes in.
“It couldn’t fit the bill better. It’s Latin, it’s African, it’s world music. And as it turns out, they represent our country internationally as cultural ambassadors,” Left Hand’s events and community liaison Josh Goldberg says of Ozomatli.
Ozomatli, an assortment of L.A. natives who got their start as an activist band, has been progressive from the get-go. Their music is an amalgamation of musical genres, from hip-hop to cumbia, samba to funk, and merengue to Jamaican ragga, resulting in an English- and Spanish-language musical cornucopia.
Uli Bella, saxaphonist, clarinetist and backup singer in Ozomatli, says the band is happy to perform in Colorado and support Intercambio.
“For us, Colorado has always been a great place to play,” he says. “It’s almost like we play too much in Colorado, but people really love us there. It just made sense all around.”
He also speaks of the band’s L.A. origin and immigrant connections that drew them to support an organization like Intercambio.
“Most of us grew up in L.A.,” Bella says. “We all went to public schools, and we all went to public music programs. For me the multicultural aspect of living in L.A. was just part of life. Our bus route went through all the different neighborhoods of L.A. It set us up for what it means to be in the world. Obviously there’s the whole angle too that we grew up kind of in the middle, as children of second-generation immigrants.”
Left Hand provided the initial funding to bring in Ozomatli. Shainis, who is an Ozo aficionado, had tried to attract them in previous years for Intercambio’s annual La Fiesta event, but says he was unable to as a result of insufficient funding.
Left Hand’s offer to host the event and foot the initial bill made the large-scale event possible, Shainis says. Ninety percent of the anticipated $20,000 proceeds from Culture Jam will benefit Intercambio with the remaining 10 percent going to the YMCA.
“We had nothing to lose, and everything to learn. I’m proud of the people we’ve attracted at every level,” Shainis says. “I’m really proud of our students who have really achieved the goals with our program. They try it, and a lot of them end up doing it.”
Intercambio Uniting Communities´ Culture Jam featuring Ozomatli takes place at Left Hand Brewing Company at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 22. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children, plus $5 day of show. 1265 Boston Ave., Longmont, 303-996-0275.