Learning Partner Spotlight: Bilingual Bridges

How Bilingual Bridges Aided a Zambian Refugee Family in Navigating Language Barriers

INDIANAPOLIS – In a quiet neighborhood on the westside of Indianapolis lies a story of resilience, courage, and the pursuit of education. The Mubanga1 family, traveling from the war-torn lands of Zambia, embarked on a journey that led them to Indiana in March 2022. 

Fleeing conflict and seeking a better future, they found themselves in Indianapolis, a city that presented its own set of hurdles. The Mubanga family found solace in an unexpected place – a local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

Recognizing the language barrier that the Mubanga family faced, members of the congregation stepped up to help. One member, Elsa Helms, felt that it was her “personal Christian duty” to support the Mubangas.

Helms heard about Indiana Learns when it launched back in October of 2022, and worked to get the students – a 4th, 6th and 8th grader – enrolled. She quickly found a Learning Partner that could support the Mubanga children’s language learning needs.

Kelly Minks, founder of Bilingual Bridges

Bilingual Bridges, a local organization offering math and reading tutoring to bilingual, low-income English learners, was the first to join the newly-launched Indiana Learns program as an approved Learning Partner.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, founder Kelly Minks saw the partnership as an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. Minks, who was still a classroom teacher, saw how difficult education was becoming for everyone involved. 

“I left the classroom in January of 2022, knowing that I wanted to take a different approach with Bilingual Bridges,” she said. “We wanted to expand our reach. When I discovered Indiana Learns later that year – I knew we needed to get in line.”

After applying and becoming an approved Learning Partner, the organization began offering services with a team of only 25. Today, Bilingual Bridges has grown its team to almost 90 teachers.  

“I really don’t know where these babies would be without Indiana Learns,” Helms said.

“They were so far behind, because teachers can’t always give them that one one-on-one. But that’s what Indiana Learns has done: it’s helped them with the basics that they couldn’t get in school.”

The Mubanga children, bright and eager learners, currently receive math and ELA tutoring every week. After several months, they began to find their footing and gain confidence in their English skills. 

“If these kids get another year of Indiana Learns, they are going to be where they need to be,” Helms noted. “That’s how much of an impact this program has already made for them.”

Today, the Mubanga family stands as a beacon of hope in the Indianapolis community. Through their unwavering perseverance and commitment to education, they have not only overcome language barriers but have also forged a path towards a brighter future.

1 The family surname mentioned in this story (Mubanga) is an alias, in accordance with Indiana Learns privacy regulations.