Our Story

Sharing language, culture, and friendship.

Bismarck Global Neighbors was founded in 2015 to meet the needs of central North Dakota's growing immigrant population.


Available services were not equipped to meet the unique needs of foreign-born families, and many of our new neighbors were feeling left out in the cold (sometimes literally).

Today, we are proud to operate the capital city's only New American mentorship program, and offer a number of free services to support integration in our awesome state.


We also take great pride in connecting host North Dakotans with the international community, allowing all of us to grow our knowledge of the wider world.

What We Believe


the mission of Bismarck Global Neighbors is to facilitate successful integration of New Americans in central North Dakota, and to share language, culture, and friendship between all communities new and old.


Our vision is that Central North Dakota would be a welcoming, diverse community where all new neighbors integrate smoothly and successfully.


Our work is guided by our belief in and commitment to:




and community collaboration


What we do

Nothing creates community like real neighbor-to-neighbor relationships. We pair volunteer American mentors with New American residents in 6 month partnerships. 

In these partnerships, we provide training, support, and encouragement to our mentors, who spend their time (only an hour per week!) helping their New Neighbors with the following: English, cultural mentoring, applications, homework, job searching, and getting to know the city.

We also focus on advocacy: making sure that North Dakota's immigrant families are treated fairly and with respect, and that barriers to their inclusion and success are dismantled. 

Finally, we're big into community. We host many educational and fun events that  connect both our immigrant families and the host community in an open, welcoming environment.

Our Board



Julie Ramos Lagos

Executive Director

Julie Ramos Lagos was born and raised in Northwest North Dakota.   In 1997 she studied internationally in Canada and has a M.A in Student Development, B.A. in Intercultural Studies, B.A. Social Sciences, and a Certificate of T.E.S.O.L. During her studies, she developed the first ever international student program for Canadian Mennonite University as her college field study.  

She also worked with New Americans volunteering with International Student Ministries and ISI (in Canada & Colorado) for over 12+ years.  Julie loves studying languages and currently speaks intermediate Spanish but has studied Spanish, German, Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Hebrew, and more.  Julie is an advocate for cultural diversity, loves traveling & international foods, and has spent time in China teaching ESL to Chinese English teachers, backpacking in Europe/Greece, ministries in Honduras, started a Spanish ministries in the Bakken during the oil boom and more!  

Julie is the Show Manager for the Bismarck Tribune Sport Show and Adjunct Professor for Cultural Anthroplogy classes at the University of Mary.

Julie loves sharing her North Dakota heritage to people from all parts of the world & encouraging them to share their heritage & culture as well.



Joy Giciro

Integration Specialist

Joy was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and later moved to Kenya, where she learned English and Swahili. She and her family emigrated to the United States when Joy was in high school.

Joy is currently an NDSU nursing student in Bismarck, ND, and works part-time as Global Neighbors' Integration Specialist. She is adept at navigating New American families through difficult applications and processes, and does everything with deep respect for families' cultures and stories. She is fluent in Kinyamlunge, Kinyarwanda, English, Swahili, and Kirundi.



Kara Shariff


Kara joined the board in 2019. She was raised in North Dakota. She majored in Spanish and Chicano Studies at the University of Minnesota and spent time abroad in Madrid, Spain. In 2000 She studied in River Plate Bible Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After receiving a Bachelor in Theology and in Education she taught biblical classes and also English to Argentinian missionaries going abroad. She has now students that live in all parts of the world. After living in Argentina for 18 years, in October 2018 she moved to North Dakota to continue to work with the Hispanic community and with the New Americans in the Bismarck/Mandan area. 


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Dan Donlin


Dan joined the board in 2019. He was born and raised in Bismarck. He recently retired from the Bismarck Police Department after a 30-year law enforcement career devoted to Servant Leadership in our wonderful community. One of his favorite opportunities during 5 1/2 years as chief of police was to meet with New Americans at Lutheran Social Services to welcome them, on behalf of the Bismarck Police Department, to their new home and to ease any anxieties they may have regarding law enforcement and their role in our community. After God and family, his passion in life is to love, help and serve others while living a life demonstrating acceptance and tolerance for differences in our community. 


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Matthew Nygard


Matthew joined the board in 2019. He is a North Dakota native who was born in France and raised for 12 years in Cameroon. He returned to Cameroon as an adult, where he met and married his wife, Dina. They are currently raising 3 children in Bismarck. He has served as an accountant as Bismarck State College and the Western North Dakota Synod of the ELCA. Matthew previously served as one of Global Neighbors' first mentors, partnering with a French-speaking West African family. He and his family are closely involved with the international community in central ND, and long-time supporters of Bismarck Global


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Dr. Karen Hooge Michalka

Board member

Karen was born in northeastern North Dakota. She studied sociology at Wheaton College. After graduating, she lived in Zacatecas, Mexico  for two years before entering a graduate program in sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Karen's research centered on the ways immigrant churches provide support, direction, and community for new arrivals. After receiving her Ph.D., Karen and her husband Joseph, a computational chemist, moved to Bismarck where she teaches at the University of Mary. Karen has volunteered with Bismarck Global Neighbors as a mentor and in administering and analyzing a needs assessment survey.



Michael Kindel

Board Member

Michael and his wife, Kami, are part of the original founding team of BGN. Michael is a North Dakota native with a heart for the stranger. He is an engineer at Doosan-Bobcat, and is busy with 3 wonderful children.



Donavon Hatzenbuhler

Board member

Donavon joined the board in 2019. Donavon was born in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. Shortly after his first birthday he was adopted by a couple in Mandan, North Dakota. After high school, he spent 6 months in an intensive Spanish program in Spain.  He enlisted in the United States Air Force and served in Saudi Arabia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey. After an honorable discharge, he enlisted in the Army and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Kuwait. He has also traveled to Russia, Ethiopia, China, Peru, Guatemala, Pakistan, South Korea, Vietnam, Colombia, and Thailand, is fluent in Spanish, and speaks a little Arabic and Turkish. Donavon is a dedicated volunteer with New Americans at the Adult Learning Center, Global Neighbors, and the public library.



Alice Musumba

Board member

Alice joined the board in 2018. A citizen of the world, Alice brings her passion for neighbors from experiences life has afforded her through her upbringing in Kenya, involvement in community health efforts in East Africa, and life in England and Texas before making Bismarck ND home since 2007. With a desire that each of use would realize our full potential and be engaged in making others be successful, too, Alice sees Global Neighbors as a great forum to make this happen!



Leah Hargrove


Leah Hargrove was born and raised in North Carolina. She majored in International Studies and French at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She moved to North Dakota with her husband in 2012. Time spent living abroad in France and mentoring refugee families in Grand Forks made her realize the unique isolation and bewilderment immigrants face when relocating to a new country. She helped found Global Neighbors in 2015 to address the lack of services to New Americans in Bismarck-Mandan, and she now serves as executive director. Leah was chosen as the City of Bismarck's Humanitarian of the Year for 2018, is a Change Network alumna, and a current Hello Neighbor Fellow.