Our Staff

Staff:                                                                   Consultants:

Kari Lerch                                                                             Rob Cherry

David Riemer                                                                       Tracy Johnson  

Mike Bare                                                                             Jon Richards  

Kasaundra Brown                                                                

Jan Buchler                                                                     

Rashidah Butler

Elysse Chay Wageman                      

Deavon Collins

Julie Kerksick                                                  

Jeffery Roman

Conor Williams

Deb Heffner

Anneke Mohr


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.

Rashidah Butler

Drug Free Communities Coordinator

Public Policy Institute

Rashidah is the Drug-Free Communities Coordinator for the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute. As DFC Coordinator, Rashidah works in the 53206 zip code of Milwaukee to prevent and reduce youth alcohol and marijuana usage. Additionally she works to recruit community members, including youth and parents, to participate in a broad variety of prevention strategies, work groups and activities including community projects for youth, retailer compliance checks, and public outreach and education.  

Most recently, Rashidah served as a Teach for America Corp Member in Texas, teaching 7th, 8th and 9th grade students. In her past work as a Community Organizer at Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, she worked in youth programming as well as supporting overall program coordination.

Rashidah holds a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership and a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has been awarded the African-American Students Academic Services Honors and the Helen Bader Institute Scholarship.

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.”


Deavon Collins

Partnership for Success Coordinator,
Public Policy Institute

Deavon Collins is the Partnership for Success Coordinator (PFS) for the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute. Her role as PFS coordinator is to manage the PFS 2015 grant, which focuses on prescription drug prevention and its implementation in Milwaukee and Kenosha counties.  Her position includes regular communication and technical assistance with subcontracted agencies, reporting to the State of Wisconsin, organizing local and regional training, attending regular coordinator meetings and assistance with the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth project.  Her focus targets community education, prescriber education, and prescription drug disposal, as well as training educators and youth workers to identify youth under the influence.

Deavon’s past roles include working for the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board as the Contract Monitor in their youth department. Her responsibilities included working with youth in the community and creating partnerships with summer employers. She has experience working as a contract monitor on the Health Professional Opportunity Grant. She also honorably served as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S Air Force Reserves.

Deavon holds a B.A in Psychology from Ashford University and is currently working towards a master’s in Community Psychology at Alverno College.

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.

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

Grants Manager

Public Policy Institute

As Grants Manager of Community Advocates Public Policy Institute (PPI), Deborah Heffner advances the mission of PPI by creating sustainability and supporting future growth. Her responsibilities include poverty prevention and public policy grants researching, writing, and reporting. She is also responsible for building relationships with community partners and funders on behalf of PPI.

Deborah began her employment with PPI in May 2015 as Coordinator of the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance, funded by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. Through education and community mobilization, Deborah led a coalition of more than 25 community partners to combat health disparities, raise awareness of the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics, and implement policy interventions to decrease tobacco use.

Prior to her roles at PPI, Deborah worked alongside Community Advocates in various capacities, including through her work as Associate Director of Evaluation Systems at the Center for Self-Sufficiency from 2012-2015. In that position, Deborah had the opportunity to work as the Evaluation Liaison for the PPI-housed Milwaukee Brighter Futures Program. Prior to her work at the Center for Self-Sufficiency, Deborah worked for Rosalie Manor Community & Family Services for over a decade, serving in a variety of positions from Life Skills Educator to overseeing the organization's Youth Development Department and Community Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition.

Deborah’s past roles have given her significant experience in development, implementation, and evaluation of sustainable prevention work. She has a passion for uniting local organizations to affect positive change within communities.

Deborah received her Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2001 with a major in Educational Policy & Community Studies. A Milwaukee-area native, Deborah currently resides in Wauwatosa with her husband and three children. 


 Anneke Mohr

City of Milwaukee Tobacco Free Alliance Coordinator, 

Public Policy Institute

Anneke Mohr coordinates the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance, which mobilizes community partners to: promote youth tobacco prevention through Wisconsin Wins and FACT; promote smoke-free housing through Clear Gains; and reduce tobacco disparities in the LGBTQ community through the #TobaccoFreePride initiative.

Anneke comes to Community Advocates with a background in prevention and health promotion in a variety of settings. She started out doing HIV prevention and support as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland and case manager in Washington, D.C., then moved on to tobacco prevention as a graduate research assistant at the Center for Public Health Systems Science at Washington University in St. Louis, where she obtained Master of Public Health and Master of Social Work degrees. She returned to Wisconsin for the Wisconsin Population Health Service fellowship, working with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services AIDS/HIV Program and Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Epidemiology Center.  

Since moving to Milwaukee in 2013, she has worked on LGBTQ health as the Interim Program Director at Diverse and Resilient and as the Fetal Infant Mortality (FIMR) Assistant at the Milwaukee Health Department. She is excited to join the Prevention team at PPI to combine her interests in tobacco prevention, LGBTQ health, and health equity.


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.



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.


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.