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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.

  • Coordinator
    Southeast Region of the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth

    Kat comes from a background in nonprofit and community work as an alumna of Public Allies Milwaukee, and most recently worked with Marquette University’s Center for Community Service to connect students to the important work happening across the city. Kat is passionate about the role of community care in promoting public health and taking systems-level approaches to building stronger communities. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Marquette University and a Master's of Public Health from the University of South Florida.

  • Engagement Specialist
    Stronger Families Milwaukee

    Gabriel Drinkwater has served Community Advocates for seven years in the Call Center, Energy Assistance, Housing, Project Bridge, FSET and now the Public Policy Institute serving in the Stronger Families Program as an Engagement Specialist. Gabe, a Marine Corps veteran, is also doing an internship with the Nevermore Batterers Prevention and Intervention program as well. Gabe brings a wealth of knowledge to the table when it comes to all types of community resources and is eager to serve the community in any way that he can.

  • Community Outreach and Engagement Manager
    Community Advocates Public Policy Institute

    De’Shawn Ewing joins the team as the Community Outreach and Engagement Manager. His professional career began in 1997, as a mentor for Rosalie Manor Community and Family Services. This experience helped instill a love for working in and with the community.

    For the past twenty-six years, De’Shawn has worked with several nonprofits serving youth and families. Some of those were Next Door, Our Next Generation, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and The Parenting Network. Much of that work has included facilitating and coordinating workshops for youth, general parent and specific fatherhood education. Many of these workshops focused on sex education and healthy relationship skills. Most recently, De’Shawn served the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention as the Family Injury and Violence Prevention Program Coordinator; there he helped coordinate activities and strategies around domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and more. He also convened, built, and expanded community partnerships to grow community capacity.

  • Program Manager
    Stronger Families Milwaukee

    Lauren Faulds joins the Public Policy Institute as Program Manager of the Stronger Families Milwaukee program, which seeks to prevent child abuse and neglect by delivering supportive services and resources to vulnerable families. Prior to this position, Lauren served in Community Advocates’ Housing Department for almost three years. As a Housing Advocate for the Siemer and My Home programs, she helped to ensure that individuals and families maintained stable housing; assisted with budgeting, relocation, and children’s needs; and mediated and advocated for tenants and landlords. She also has experience at Pathfinders Shelter and Drop-In Center, St. Ben’s, Comfort Keepers, and Project Homeless Connect. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work from Concordia University.

  • Contract Monitoring Coordinator
    Community Advocates Public Policy Institute

    Sonia’s career in business and devotion to public service make her well-suited to serve as the organization’s Contract Monitoring Coordinator, where she reviews and supports youth-serving agencies funded through Stay Strong Milwaukee and the Brighter Futures Initiative. Her career in international business required her to engage with teams throughout the world and develop a cross-cultural mindset and intercultural communications skills. Sonia earned her MBA in Nonprofit Management and Leadership and BS in International Business at Concordia University, and has volunteered at Catholic Charities and Horizon Home Care & Hospice, as well as interned at Sojourner Family Peace Center. She is fluent in English and Spanish.

  • 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 published three novels as well as three nonfiction books about shy people: Shyness: A Bold New Approach, The Shyness Breakthrough, and Shyness: The Ultimate Teen Guide.

  • Coordinator
    City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance

    Charlie joins the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance with expertise in sustainability, organizational dynamics, and service. Charlie earned their Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Urban Dynamics from Arizona State University as well as a Sustainability and Innovation Fellowship from Starbucks Coffee Company, where they launched and managed teams and sites throughout Milwaukee. Charlie joined the Alliance’s LGBT Work Group in 2019 and also served as Health and Wellness Coordinator for Pridefest, so they are launching their career at Community Advocates Public Policy Institute with a thorough understanding of the Alliance’s mission, partnerships, and goals.

  • Training & Technical Assistance Manager
    Community Advocates Public Policy Institute

    Now serving as Training and Technical Assistance Manager, Hannah has also held positions at the Public Policy Institute as Prevention Manager and 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.

  • Training Coordinator
    Public Policy Institute

    Rita Liesiefsky has built a long career in the training field. She has worked as an Implementation Consultant and Trainer for a health care software company, a Technical Trainer for an education company, and a Training Manager for an umbrella service agency. She has led seminars on diversity, stress management, and personality and supervisory traits and its effect on association morale. Rita has developed assertiveness interactive trainings (with homework!), among other targeted and just-in-time trainings. She is especially proud of her Women-In-Leadership two-day workshop delivered to women’s auxiliary organizations.

    In addition, Rita has served as a Disaster Director on over 10 national operations, and as Human Services Disaster Director on seven national operations, and as the American Red Cross Wisconsin Field Service Manager.

    Rita has always been passionate about the “aha” moments of training and uses two quotes as life guides: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death” (Albert Einstein) and “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood” (attributed to many).

  • Engagement Specialist
    Stronger Families Milwaukee

    Devin earned a Bachelor's of Arts degree with a focus in communications from Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. Prior to joining PPI, Devin served as a Case Manager for the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) Program, in which she assisted individuals with structuring a plan to accomplish both personal and educational goals. Through providing immediate and long-term resources, these individuals have successfully completed educational goals such as job trainings and obtaining a GED or HSED.

  • Engagement Specialist
    Stronger Families Milwaukee

    Karina is an Engagement Specialist with Stronger Families Milwaukee. Her background is primarily in art and education, but helping people has always been her passion, which is why she sought out this opportunity to help Milwaukee parents and families stabilize their households. She is excited to start this chapter of her life and career and to see what the future holds.

  • Engagement Specialist
    Stronger Families Milwaukee

    As an Engagement Specialist for the Stronger Families Program at Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, Christine helps to connect families involved in the child welfare system to resources within the community so that they can build household stability. While studying for a Bachelor's degree in biology, Christine joined the board for Habitat for Humanity at UW-Milwaukee. Through four years of this involvement, she developed her interest in helping people in Milwaukee get access to housing and other resources.

Director Emeritus

  • Emeritus Director

    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).

Policy Advocate Emerita

  • Julie Kerksick
    Julie Kerksick

    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.


  • Economic Policy Analyst

    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.
    Additionally, 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.

    Previously, Conor co-led the “Healthy Workers, Healthy Wisconsin” project. Funded by UW School of Medicine and Public Health, Wisconsin Partnership Program, this five-year project combined 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 worked 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.

    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.