Our Staff

Staff:                                                                   Consultants:

Kari Lerch                                                                             Rob Cherry

David Riemer                                                                       Ken Germanson

Mike Bare                                                                             Tracy Johnson  

Kasaundra Brown                                                                Cassy Krueger  

Jan Buchler                                                                          Jon Richards

Elysse Chay Wageman                      

Julie Kerksick

Melissa McGaughey                                                       

Jeffery Roman

Conor Williams

Tarvus Hawthorne

Deb Heffner



Kari Lerch

Deputy Director,

Public Policy Institute

Kari is the Institute's Deputy Director. Kari came to Community Advocates eight years ago as an intern while obtaining her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As an intern, she spent time in the housing, utility, protective payee and health departments, which has provided her with a broad foundation of knowledge to work on social issues affecting people living in poverty.

Kari was hired to serve as a case manager for the disability department after completing her internship and graduating. Through several advancements, Kari joined the Institute in the position of Prevention Services Manager, and was promoted to Deputy Director in June of 2015.

Kari has always had an interest in learning and furthering her education, and recently received her master’s degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kari also serves on the Board of the Wisconsin Coalition to End Homelessness, a statewide organization dedicated to advocating for homeless programming in Wisconsin.



David Riemer

Senior Fellow, 

Public Policy Institute

David has been active for many years in reshaping Wisconsin and U.S. policies on welfare, poverty, health care and education. He was chosen in 2010 to serve as a member of the Wisconsin Legislative Council Special Committee on Health Care Reform Implementation, as well as the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) Study Panel on Health Insurance Exchanges.

David is the author of “The Prisoners of Welfare” and numerous articles on poverty, health care reform and public administration. He is one of the co-founders of The New Hope Project. David served from 2004-07 as Director of the Wisconsin Health Project, which sought to lower the number of Wisconsin’s uninsured and control health care costs. The project was responsible for developing bipartisan legislation to provide all of the state’s residents with affordable health insurance and lower the growth of health care costs.

David worked as an Atlantic Fellow in Public Policy in London and Oxford, England, in 2002; his research focused on supplementing low-income workers’ earnings through the tax system. During 2003, David served as Budget Director for Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. His primary responsibility was to help solve the state’s projected .2 billion deficit. The resulting balanced budget preserved vital services without raising taxes. In 2004, David campaigned for Milwaukee County Executive.

From 1988-2001, David held several high-level jobs for the City of Milwaukee, including Budget Director, Administration Director and Chief of Staff for Mayor John O. Norquist. For most of this period, he was responsible for overseeing the central fiscal, purchasing, IT and intergovernmental functions of the city government.

From 1975-88, David held several positions in government and the private sector. He was legal advisor to Wisconsin Governor Patrick Lucey, served as legal counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy’s Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research, worked as a health policy analyst for the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, prepared a report on Wisconsin’s uninsured for the state Department of Health and Social Services, and worked on health care cost containment issues for Time Insurance Company.

David received an AB degree from Harvard College in History and Literature (1970) and a law degree from Harvard Law School (1975).

Mike Bare

Research and Program Coordinator, Effective ACA Implementation Project

Public Policy Institute

Mike is the Research and Program Coordinator for the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute. He specializes in policy research in disability, energy assistance, housing and health care, and is an expert on the intersection of policy with politics and the legislative process. Mike is also an expert on the Affordable Care Act and is the Coordinator of the Effective ACA Implementation Project.

At the Institute, Mike was also Coordinator of the Project for Health Insurance Exchange Education (PHIXE), a Program Evaluator of the Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative, and has assisted with the Working Our Way Out of Poverty Project and the Milwaukee Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

Mike has an extensive grassroots politics and government service background, having worked and consulted for political campaigns at every level of government. He also served as a longtime aide to former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold in his Washington, DC office, and as the Research Director for his 2010 campaign.

Mike holds an MA in political science from American University, where he was President of the Graduate Student Council. He is a former alderman, has been a longtime volunteer for Special Olympics and other disability organizations, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin, HealthWatch Wisconsin, and is the Chapter Director of New Leader Council-Madison.

Kasaundra Brown

Prevention Associate, Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition

Public Policy Institute

Kasaundra Brown joined Community Advocates Public Policy Institute in March of 2013 as the Prevention Associate for the Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. Kasaundra received her Bachelor of Science Degree with a focus on Health Services Administration in July of 2012 from Upper Iowa University.

Prior to joining Community Advocates, Kasaundra worked for Milwaukee Public Schools for 9 years as a Paraprofessional in Special Education. Kasaundra was born and raised in Milwaukee, and expresses a great passion for youth with special needs.

Jan Buchler

Contract Monitor, Brighter Futures & Stay Strong

Public Policy Institute

Jan’s lifelong passion has been working in nonprofit agencies with compelling missions. Prior to joining the PPI team at Community Advocates, Jan served for 15 years as the Executive Director of The Parenting Network whose mission is to strengthen parenting and to prevent child abuse. Prior to that position, Jan worked as Director of Family Services at Meta House, an outpatient and residential facility serving women in recovery from substance abuse. Her focus was working with women who were pregnant or whose children resided with them in residential treatment.

With an MS in Education and a strong belief in the critical importance of quality programs for young children and in early brain development, Jan served as director of early childhood and family services at the Jewish Community Center in Milwaukee and the Leo Yassenhoff JCC in Columbus, Ohio for over 20 years. She initiated NAEYC accreditation and established Parenting Centers in each location. During those years, Jan was also an adjunct faculty member of the Milwaukee Area Technical College and Columbus State Community College, teaching classes in the Early Childhood Division, and monitoring students in their field placements.

In this current position, Jan is able to contribute to the flip-side of funding, ensuring that grantees are good stewards of state and local dollars. Jan is an active board member of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee and is a volunteer facilitator with the Community Building Milwaukee initiative.

Elysse Chay Wageman

Prevention Services Manager,

Public Policy Institute

As Prevention Services Manager, Elysse has management responsibility over PPI’s prevention and intervention programs including Brighter Futures and the Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. She works to nurture collaborations and communicate with community stakeholders. Her previous role as Program Manager for the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee was supported by a PPI grant, familiarizing her with PPI. While leading the Carrera pilot, she helped to prevent teen pregnancy and provide supports including academic help, employment help, sexuality education, and a parent outreach program.

Other past roles include Development Manager/Campaign Manager for Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee, Program Manager and Director of Evaluation for Public Allies Milwaukee, and Communications Coordinator for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

Elysse holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a master’s degree in Political Science from Marquette University, where she was a Trinity Fellow. She was a founding board director of the Young Nonprofit Professional Network (YNPN) Greater Milwaukee Chapter, and in 2009 was named in Milwaukee Magazine’s listing, “The Next Generation: New leaders under 40 who will change Milwaukee.”

Tarvus Hawthorne

Program Coordinator, Drug-Free Communities

Public Policy Institute

Tarvus is Program Coordinator for the Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition’s Drug-Free Communities Project, which aims to prevent youth alcohol and marijuana use in Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code.  As Coordinator, Tarvus recruits coalition members and volunteers and supports the coalition in carrying out a variety of projects and environmental strategies to prevent youth substance use.

In a previous role at Community Advocates, Tarvus was Program Resource Coordinator for a Milwaukee County Pathways to Response Fatherhood Program site.  The work with fathers included presenting a parenting curriculum and trainings, as well as hosting events and referring people to needed resources.  In previous work, Tarvus has offered education, case management and employment services in correctional institutions and at community agencies. He also was part of the Public Allies leadership apprenticeship program. 

Tarvus holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Human Services and is in training as a Substance Abuse Counselor and a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid, which helps adults learn how to respond to mental health crises in young people.

Julie Kerksick

Senior Policy Advocate, 

Public Policy Institute

Julie is the Senior Policy Advocate for the Working Our Way Out of Poverty Project. As former Executive Director of the New Hope Project in Milwaukee, Julie has specific “hands-on” experience with both transitional jobs and Earned Income Tax Credit reform. As part of Julie’s work at New Hope, she played a key role in persuading state and federal policy-makers of both parties to enact legislation to support the program. In her two most recent positions—as Administrator of the Division of Family and Economic Security in Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families, and as Director of the Office of Economic Security in Colorado’s Department of Human Services—she ran two TANF programs, and influenced national TANF policy. In these positions, she organized the implementation (in Wisconsin) and adoption (in Colorado) of transitional jobs programs that, taken together, allocated over million to provide thousands of poor, unemployed adults with wage-paying jobs. Julie is a graduate of Saint Louis University.

Melissa McGaughey

Grants and Communications Manager,

Public Policy Institute

At the Public Policy Institute, Melissa is responsible for writing and submitting grant proposals, prospect research, and assisting with program development. With regard to communications, Melissa oversees the Public Policy Institute’s website content and social media. Previous to her work in the Public Policy Institute, Melissa worked on grantwriting and communications for Community Advocates’ programs as a whole, including their many direct service programs. 

She has worked as a grantwriter for two organizations related to American Indian communities – at the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education at the University of WI-Milwaukee and the Division of Indian Work in Minneapolis, MN. She has also worked as a Researcher/Policy Analyst at the local think tank, the Public Policy Forum, mainly researching and writing about policies related to early childhood education and Milwaukee County’s mental health system.

Melissa holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs at the University of MN-Twin Cities. Her degree concentration was social policy. She also holds a BA in English from Marquette University.

Jeffery Roman

Benchmark Coordinator, Minority Male Achievement,

Public Policy Institute

Jeffery Roman has worked in the Milwaukee community as an educator, advocate, and coalition builder for over 10 years having served in various roles within the nonprofit, community services, and public sectors. Jeffery comes to the Public Policy Institute leading the charge locally, developing community-municipal-academic partnerships and cross-system collaborations that engage, support and empower boys and men of color in Milwaukee. He is actively engaged in the City’s Black Male Achievement and Fatherhood Initiative efforts with focus on organizing stakeholders, building program capacity, and aligning policy and resources at the city, county, and state levels. His work has laid the foundation for collaborative efforts that aim to improve outcomes in health, education, employment, violence prevention, entrepreneurship, and criminal justice system connection among at-risk males and fathers across the region.

Previously, Jeffery co-led the development of the Milwaukee Boys to Men Coalition, the City of Milwaukee/Milwaukee Public Schools BE the CHANGE partnership program, the Milwaukee Men’s Health Resource Network, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Alliance of Black School Educators (MMABSE) Black Male Educators Commission. Prior to that work, he participated in, led or staffed a number of community coalitions, networks and alliances including the City of Milwaukee Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Workgroup, the Milwaukee Teen Pregnancy Prevention Network, the Milwaukee Alliance for Sexual Health, and the Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative.

Jeffery is the oldest of five boys raised by a single mother in Milwaukee and is a fellow with the Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Community Change. He is graduate of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ K-12 full Spanish immersion program and studied educational policy and community studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 2011, Jeffery was appointed to the City of Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and has served as its Chair since. As an ERC Commissioner, he works to strengthen community relations and accountability between residents and City departments, and provide opportunities to all City residents and underserved communities most in need.

Conor Williams

Economic Policy Analyst, Working Our Way Out of Poverty and Transitional Jobs Project

Public Policy Institute

Conor Williams is the Economic Policy Analyst for the Working Our Way Out of Poverty Project. He also operates a family-owned stone fabrication business which he helped to found. Conor holds an honors BA in Economics from University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. Conor started work doing econometric modeling at the Department of Transport in Sydney, Australia followed by a number of years as an economic analyst for an aircraft leasing company in Shannon, Ireland. Subsequently he worked as an economic policy analyst for the Department of Commerce and Industry, Gaborone, Botswana, facilitated through the Irish aid agency APSO.

Conor is active in MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope), where he leads the TIP Initiative (Treatment Instead of Prison), which offers an alternative to criminalization and incarceration through seeking to send non-violent offenders suffering from the disease of substance use disorder to supervised community treatment programs.

Deborah Heffner

Community Health Coordinator, City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance

Public Policy Institute

Deborah Heffner serves as a Community Health Coordinator, becoming an official member of the team at Community Advocates Public Policy Institute in May 2015 after being hired to coordinate our City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance. Prior to this role, Deb worked alongside Community Advocates in various capacities including as the Evaluation Liaison for the Milwaukee Brighter Futures Program since 2012 through her previous position of Associate Director of Evaluation Systems at the Center for Self-Sufficiency. Prior to that position, Deb worked for Rosalie Manor Community & Family Services for over a decade, filling the role of a Life Skills Educator straight out of college to eventually overseeing the organization's Youth Development Department and Community Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition.

Deborah is grateful for these past roles which have provided her with significant experience in development, implementation, evaluation and sustainability of youth and family prevention programming. She has a specific passion for bringing community based organizations together around a common purpose to affect change in our community utilizing evidence-based programming and tools.

Deb received her Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2001with a major in Educational Policy & Community Studies. She also completed a Family Mediation Certification Program in October 2014.


Rob Cherry

Senior Advisor,

Public Policy Institute

Rob Cherry was Director of the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute from November of 2012 through July of 2015. Rob is a Milwaukee native who envisions and works toward a community that actively aligns its public policies with dramatically reducing poverty and its root causes, compassionately caring for those who are ill, rationally providing services to those within the criminal justice system, and keenly preventing negative outcomes for Milwaukee's youth and families.

Rob joined the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute in 2009 as Systems Design Coordinator for the Milwaukee Addiction Treatment Initiative, and helped promote legislated access for Wisconsin individuals to a high-quality healthcare delivery system integrating addiction treatment, mental health, physical health and supportive services to improve the likelihood of recovery.

Rob was then appointed to the position of Prevention Services Manager and his responsibilities were expanded to include management of the Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative, a state-funded program that provides prevention services for Milwaukee County youth and families. This included the implementation of the Carrera model Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program within the Darryl Hynes Academy in cooperation with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and the Center for Self-Sufficiency.

Through Rob's leadership, the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute was awarded the role of coordinator of the Milwaukee Multi-Jurisdictional Tobacco Coalition that is funded by the State Tobacco Prevention Control program.

Rob was formerly an Outreach Specialist for UW Milwaukee’s School of Public Health Center for Urban Population Health, Lead Assessment Counselor for M&S Clinical Services, and a Prevention Specialist for Aurora Sinai, where he provided support to the State of Wisconsin's initiative to enhance the delivery of substance abuse screening, brief screening, referral and treatment (SBIRT) services in a primary healthcare setting.

Ken Germanson

Communications Consultant

Ken has worked at Community Advocates since 1992 on projects involving child abuse prevention, youth development, community strengthening and health care advocacy for low-income persons. He also has been a community activist and spent more than 35 years as a labor union leader.

Ken is a former journalist who began work on the old Milwaukee Sentinel as a reporter-rewriteman after his return to Milwaukee from the U.S. Navy in 1957. It was at the Sentinel that he became active in his labor union, the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild, eventually serving on the executive board and bargaining committee.

In 1964, Ken joined the staff of Milwaukee District Council 48, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO), where he mainly represented workers for the Cities of Milwaukee and West Allis, bargaining some of the pioneer labor contracts of the period. From 1968 to 1992, he was a staff member of the Milwaukee-based International Union, Allied Industrial Workers of America (AFL-CIO), heading the union’s political action and communications programs, becoming chief administrative officer for the union in 1981.

He was president of the Wisconsin Labor History Society from 1992 to 2009 and continues serving the Society as President Emeritus, editing the Society’s newsletter, handling Web site functions and assisting the current officers.

Ken has been active in a number of community groups and nonprofit organizations, serving on the boards of Family Services of Milwaukee, St. Mary’s Academy and others. He also served many years on the board and as president of the Planning Council for Health and Social Services, and was involved throughout the years in many advocacy groups supporting civil rights or worker causes. He has received numerous awards for his community work.

Ken is a 1951 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with degrees in journalism and economics. He is married and lives in Milwaukee.

Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson has more than 25 years of experience working closely with nonprofits, small businesses and communities in helping them with community organizing, environmental strategies, strategic planning, Substance Abuse Prevention, Coalition Building, cultural diversity and effective programming. He has led projects focused on working with states and communities on effective substance abuse prevention strategies. As Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Regional Director of Training and Technical Assistance, he was responsible for providing ten states and seven Native American territories with substance abuse prevention support. He has extensive knowledge of SAMHSA's Strategic Prevention Framework process and Strategic Initiatives. Mr. Johnson is the Managing Partner and Director of Training and Technical Assistance for SheRay’s & Associates, LLC in Los Angeles. He also works with various federal, state and local agencies and corporations in developing comprehensive integrated prevention services to economically disadvantaged and African American children and families. He is or has been a lead facilitator/trainer in several urban communities in developing comprehensive community plans. He holds a Bachelor degree in Public Administration from Northern Illinois University.

Cassy Krueger

Communications and Program Consultant,

Public Policy Institute

Cassy comes to the Public Policy Institute from a long history of sustainability and communications work in higher education, nonprofits, and business. Taking a particular interest in the social aspect of sustainability, she is excited to work for an organization devoted to making Milwaukee a healthier community for all.

Cassy graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and Philosophy. Initially sparked by her love for writing and photography, she developed a passion for utilizing effective communications to enhance and strengthen advocacy efforts. She is passionate about making community issues relevant to individuals on a personal level.

In addition to her work with Community Advocates, Cassy is currently a graduate student in the Sustainable Peacebuilding Program at UW-Milwaukee.

Jon Richards

Jon Richards, an attorney and former Wisconsin state legislator, is a contractor with Community Advocates on issues relating to preventing youth violence, reducing tobacco use and promoting behavioral health. Jon has been recognized for effectiveness in successful bi-partisan approaches to public safety and public health by the State Bar of Wisconsin, the Association of State Prosecutors, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, ABC for Health, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and the American Cancer Society. As the primary author of the statewide smoking ban and laws to expand BadgerCare Jon has substantial experience in building and leading coalitions for change in Wisconsin. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, attended Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Jon, his wife Andrea and son Alex live in Milwaukee.