Meet Our Team
Darlene C. Russell, MS | Director of Community Engagement
My name is Darlene C. Russell and I provide leadership and community engagement strategies for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and ThriveOn Collaboration. A Milwaukee native, I grew up on the north side.
During my early years, my family and I lived in the Harambee neighborhood. I attended Northcott Neighborhood House’s Head Start program. My fondest memories are of visiting the Purple Heart, Goodwill, and Lena’s Food Market with my grandmother. Harambee is a Swahili word, which means pulling together. It is in this neighborhood where I developed an appreciation for art and culture and a love for the people in my community. It is through these experiences I developed a sense of belonging and came to understand the value of people and place and the importance of strong, thriving neighborhoods.
I am a service-oriented leader with a passion for identifying needs and creating viable solutions. My passion for people and place has given me extensive experience in community engagement, nonprofit administration, program development and management. I am dedicated to building strong relationships and partnering with organizations to strengthen and improve the quality of life for children and their families.
It’s important to me that the voices of the residents are centered, and the priorities identified by communities are aligned when making investments and seeking collaboration.
Debra Nevels | Program Manager
Debra R. Nevels, MSHCM, currently works with the Medical College of Wisconsin as the Program Manager for Community Outreach and Engagement for Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center. Most recently she worked as Health Systems Manager for the American Cancer Society for seven years.
She is also currently adjunct faculty at Concordia University in the College of the Health Services Administration program.
Throughout her educational career, she strived to take advantage of opportunities to learn from and share knowledge with others. Debra considers herself to be a lifelong learner even though she has completed her educational pursuits. Her experience is extensively rooted in health care, but main interest is in educating others. he has worked with a variety of populations in the following areas: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas.If you have any questions, feel free to contact her.
I am a senior at Marquette University studying Corporate Communications with a minor in Psychology. While on campus, I try to stay as involved as possible by working with various organizations. This lets me have an active stake in my academic community and allows myself the time to engage with fellow students. I currently serve as the Vice President of the Student Advisory Board of the Educational Opportunity Program and I am also the Public Relations & Marketing Chair for the newly charted Campus Curlz, Incorporated. If I’m not on campus, I am typically with my mom trying new hot yoga places around Milwaukee or at home trying to make new tasty pescatarian dishes.
Dr. Joni Williams
I am Joni S. Williams, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in the Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, and Center for Advancing Population Science (CAPS). I have more than twelve years of experience in community engagement, specifically conducting community-engaged research to promote health equity and reduce health disparities among historically underserved, under-resourced, and marginalized populations. As a member of the community engagement team for the ThriveOn Collaboration, I serve as Chair of the Community Building Workgroup. In partnership and solidarity with the community, I am interested in creating service-oriented activities to organize around issues of social justice, establish an environment of social cohesion and social integration, and build relationships to promote positive well-being and quality of life. As a native of South Carolina, known for its smiling faces and beautiful places, I value people and culture and know the power harnessed within the bond of communities united for a common purpose. As I continue to learn about the strong and resilient history rooted in Milwaukee, especially in the King Drive District within the Harambee, Halyard Park, and Brewer’s Hill neighborhoods, I am invested in and committed to contributing my talents, skills, and abilities towards achieving a Milwaukee that is healthy, equitable, and thriving for all!
Maliya Xiong | ThriveOn Grants Coordinator
My name is Maliya Xiong and I serve as a neighborhood fellow at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. In my role, I coordinate community engagement efforts to support resident-driven change in the Foundation’s priority neighborhoods.
As part of the ThriveOn Collaboration, I will be coordinating a grantmaking process with the community advisory council members who will be responsible for preparing funding recommendations to direct resources to neighborhood priorities. I will also support the ThriveOn workgroup initiatives to identify and establish opportunities for learning and collaboration.
I look forward to listening to the ideas and solutions from residents and community members who are the changemakers in their neighborhoods. I will contribute to resident-driven change by building relationships and empowering residents with resources and tools to tap into each of their unique talents and potential.