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Who We Are

Our Staff


  • Deputy Director

    Public Policy Institute

    Kari is the Institute's Deputy Director. Kari began her career at Community Advocates 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 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.

  • 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 $3.2 billion biennial budget 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).

  • Research and Program Coordinator, Effective ACA Implementation Project and Healthy Housing Initiative
    Public Policy Institute

    Mike is the Research and Program Coordinator for the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute. He specializes in policy research and advocacy on housing, health care, disability, and energy assistance, 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.

    At the Institute, Mike was 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, Healthy Workers Healthy Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, 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, D.C., 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 small business owner, a former alderman, and current public servant in the City of Verona, Wisconsin. He has been a longtime volunteer for Special Olympics and other disability organizations, and currently serves on the Advisory Board of HealthWatch Wisconsin, and is the Emeritus Chapter Director of New Leaders Council-Wisconsin and Emeritus Chair of the New Leaders Council’s National Programs Committee.

  • Contract Monitor, Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative & Stay Strong Milwaukee
    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 her current position, Jan is able to contribute to the flip side of funding, ensuring that grantees are good stewards of state and local dollars.

  • Manager

    Public Policy Institute

    Vanesa is excited to join Community Advocates Public Policy Institute as the Manager of the Prevention Team. She will be supporting the project coordinators and helping to connect the Prevention Team and Policy Team within the Public Policy Institute.

    She comes to the Public Policy Institute with a background in human services and workforce development and having held various leadership positions. She has experience working in programs such as Wisconsin Works and FoodShare Employment & Training, whose goals are to help individuals reach their highest level of independence. She has a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management, with a concentration on leadership and fund development. She has volunteered for various boards and committees, and is currently serving on the Board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Greater Milwaukee Chapter as the Vice President. She has a passion for Milwaukee and is excited to join the Public Policy Team to support the community, foster partnerships, and advocate for public health.

  • Coordinator
    Partnerships for Success

    John Eshun is the Partnerships for Success Coordinator with the Public Policy Institute after serving as Coordinator of the 53206 Drug-Free Communities Project. John started his work in Milwaukee as an organizer for Common Ground, an affiliate of Metro IAF. He worked in the Sherman Park neighborhood and organized the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes. John helped organize the acquisition, redevelopment, and sales of homes in Sherman Park to homeowners as a part of the Milwaukee Rising program to stabilize the housing market. He also organized churches and residents to address public safety issues and the lack of redevelopment in commercial corridors. John worked with other nonprofits as well as residential and community leaders to drive more investment and beautification for Sherman Park.

    John graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice and a minor in Spanish. He serves on the Strategy Team for Common Ground.

  • Housing Strategy Director
    Public Policy Institute

    Deborah is excited to join PPI’s Healthy Housing Initiative as the Housing Strategy Director in 2020, a role that blends her past experiences with her passion to fully launch the project and advance housing policy. In 2017, Deborah worked with her colleagues and leadership to develop the Healthy Housing Initiative designed to influence policy to increase housing affordability, quality, and stability.

    Community Advocates and its mission have been near and dear to Deborah’s heart for the past 20 years and counting. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Educational Policy and Community Studies in 2001, she coordinated a teen pregnancy prevention program at a Milwaukee-based youth and family services nonprofit that was funded by Community Advocates through the Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative. In that role, she became acquainted with Community Advocates and its founder, Ramon Wagner, and in turn, the spirit of true community collaboration and how it could impact a social issue.

    Deborah worked alongside Community Advocates in other 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 Initiative.

    Deborah began her employment with the Public Policy Institute in 2015 as Coordinator of the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance. 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. Moving into the Grants Manager position in 2016, Deborah advanced PPI’s mission by creating sustainability and supporting future growth, proudly working with the team to secure nearly $2 million in new grant awards.

  • Grants & Communications Manager
    Public Policy Institute

    Lisa is responsible for communicating the work of Community Advocates and the Public Policy Institute. Previously, Lisa covered local and national politics as the assistant editor of the Shepherd Express, Milwaukee’s largest independent newspaper. Her reporting on Milwaukee County’s mental health services and policy earned her awards in 2016 from Mental Health America-Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. After earning her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Lisa spent a decade in New York working in book publishing and e-commerce. She is the co-author of three books about shy people: Shyness: A Bold New Approach, The Shyness Breakthrough, and Shyness: The Ultimate Teen Guide.

  • Senior Policy Advocate
    Public Policy Institute

    Julie Kerksick is Community Advocates Public Policy Institute’s Senior Policy Advocate. She advocates for policies that can reduce poverty, reduce violence, and improve health.

    Throughout her career, Julie has worked to influence programs and policies at the state and national levels by presenting solid information and evidence to policymakers, reflecting the experiences of those directly affected by poverty and policies intended to alleviate it, and sharing the lessons learned in implementing public policy. As former Executive Director of the New Hope Project in Milwaukee, Julie has 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 support the program and incorporate some parts of it into state law.

    In two previous 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—Julie administered economic assistance programs, including TANF, Food Assistance, Refugee Programs, and Child Support. In her state positions, she organized the implementation (in Wisconsin) and adoption (in Colorado) of transitional jobs programs that, taken together, allocated more than $40 million to provide thousands of unemployed adults access to wage-paying jobs. She is a graduate of Saint Louis University.

  • Coordinator
    Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator

    Alexandria Kohn is the Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition Coordinator. Alexandria started her work with PPI as an intern working with Anneke Mohr in the summer of 2020 for the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance. Prior to that internship, she worked in substance abuse prevention at Community Medical Services, a substance abuse treatment facility in West Allis. She is currently completing her Master of Public Health Degree with a focus on Community Behavioral Health at UW-Milwaukee. Her previous work includes working with incarcerated youth through a CDC summer fellowship, with student health promotions as a student at Beloit College, and on community-based media, producing a podcast and documentary with community-based groups in Portland, Oregon. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Health and Society at Beloit College.

  • Coordinator
    Alliance for Wisconsin Youth Southeast Region

    Hannah joined the Public Policy Institute as Coordinator of the Southeast Region of the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth after assisting job-seekers with obtaining job skills and employment through Community Advocates’ FSET program. She earned her bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and completed an internship with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office as a Victim/Witness Advocate.

  • City of Milwaukee Tobacco Free Alliance Coordinator
    Public Policy Institute

    Anneke 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 & Resilient and as the Fetal Infant Mortality Review (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.

  • Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator
    Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition

    Jeremy began serving as MCSAP's Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator in Summer 2020. Jeremy came to the Public Policy Institute as a youth work professional, national professional development trainer, and coordinator of citywide initiatives for more than 18 organizations. As the Public Policy Institute's Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator, Jeremy combined his experience in project coordination, collective impact strategies, professional development training, and organizational development to advance the work of youth- and family-serving organizations. Previously, Jeremy served as the Resource Coordinator at the Public Policy Institute through ReCast MKE.

    Jeremy began his career as a Public Ally placed at Urban Underground as the Program Coordinator. Urban Underground is an after-school program designed to help teens develop their leadership skills through civic engagement. During this time, Jeremy developed his training methodology that incorporates micro learning, kinesthetic learning, and reflective teaching.

    He moved on to serve as the Director of Training and Technical Assistance at the Center for Youth Engagement and lead strategist for Beyond the Bell MKE. He guided 20 youth-serving after-school organizations through the nationally validated Youth Program Quality Intervention. At this time, Jeremy began establishing himself as a dynamic motivational speaker and keynote speaker for conferences, community events, and executive-level forums.

  • Economic Policy Analyst
    Public Policy Institute

    Conor co-leads the “Healthy Workers, Healthy Wisconsin” project. Funded by UW School of Medicine and Public Health, Wisconsin Partnership Program, this five-year project seeks to combine entry-level employment and training with trauma and health services to improve economic and health outcomes for people previously disconnected from the formal economy. Conor works closely with our academic partners, UWM, along with Covering Wisconsin and a network of health service partners and a network of training and employment partners.

    Conor helps to facilitate the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative, which advocates for more resources for subsidized employment and seeks to ensure that these resources are wisely used. Transitional Jobs are short-term subsidized jobs that are effective in transitioning people who are isolated from economic opportunity into work.

    Conor facilitates the Milwaukee Reentry Council, a sub-committee of the Milwaukee Community Justice Council, which works to improve reentry outcomes and reduce incarceration by broadening and deepening community engagement in reentry. He helps lead Circles of Support, restorative practice circles that create community between the once incarcerated and the never incarcerated.

    He is a graduate of University College Dublin with an honors degree in Economics. He started work doing economic 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 Conor worked as an economic policy analyst for the Department of Commerce and Industry, Gaborone, Botswana, facilitated through the Irish government. He founded and managed a family-owned granite fabrication business, Stone Dimensions, in Pewaukee for 20 years prior to joining Community Advocates. He works on projects and policies aimed at lifting people out of poverty based upon work. He is active in MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope), sits on the board of Community Warehouse and on the Community Advisory Board of the Zilber School of Public Health, UWM.


  • 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.