UEDA was formed in the mid ‘90s to address the need to support and develop organizations and businesses in Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin. Over the course of three years, we worked with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and other professionals to develop a network of neighborhood organizations, businesses, and economic development agencies.
By 1997, UEDA was officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Early UEDA initiatives included supporting minority business development programs such as Marketplace, National Development Council certification training, Success Measures evaluation, Community Reinvestment Act advocacy, and the formation of local community development corporations (CDCs).
Throughout the 2000s we developed our expertise as a U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) technical assistance provider, became active in financial literacy and lending issues, supported CDC standards, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), tax credit and other incentive programs that support economic development in underserved areas.
Over the past decade we have strengthened our work in financial empowerment, affordable housing, and homeownership through initiatives such as Money Smart Week, Milwaukee Alliance of Economic Inclusion, Take Root Milwaukee, and Bank On Greater Milwaukee. UEDA also worked in collaboration with members and others to support food-based enterprises, small business development, and regional transportation solutions.
Today, our team focuses on broad efforts that help support thriving communities such as increased community investment, sustainable homeownership and affordable housing, economic opportunity, small business growth, and regional transportation. Backed by our membership network, we aim to create more equitable communities in Milwaukee and across Southeastern Wisconsin.
Through our membership network, community partnerships, and program areas, our mission is to facilitate effective, cross-sector collaboration, meaningful connections, and strengthen individual and organizational capacity in Wisconsin’s community and economic development sector.
Our vision is that the members and communities we serve are inspired and thriving, with equitable access to investment and opportunity.
Our organizational values include:
- Collaboration – collaboration is our tool to drive positive, system changes in an effort to help urban neighborhoods thrive.
- Diversity – a diverse group of stakeholders and perspectives ensures our work is inclusive and helpful to all members of our community.
- Active Listening – careful listening and understanding of all input creates the best course of action.
- Commitment – we are committed to building connections that work toward greater outcomes in our community.
- Goodwill – we value the inherent goodness of people striving to improve our community, one step at a time.
Kristi Luzar, Executive Director
Kristi Luzar has been with the team since 2006. Kristi has over 20 years of experience working in a collaborative, multi-disciplinary environment focused on nonprofit and community development. Her skills include collaborative project management, meeting facilitation, data collection & evaluation, event coordination, technology management and communications.
Kristi provides lead support for major initiatives such as Take Root Milwaukee, Bank On Greater Milwaukee, Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center, technical assistance and UEDA’s membership and event activities. She currently serves on advisory boards for CommonBond Communities Wisconsin, Fund My Future Milwaukee, Mediate Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Department of Transportation Freight Advisory Committee.
Kristi has a Master of Science degree in Urban Studies and graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; her undergraduate degree is in English and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an avid reader and enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and baking, tennis, live music and theater, and exploring Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.
Constance Alberts, Bank On Greater Milwaukee Program Director
Constance Alberts has been with UEDA since September 2018. She works to support the growth of Bank On in the community. Constance has extensive experience building and managing financial education programs in the nonprofit sector, as a credit counselor, homeownership counseling manager, volunteer senior tax preparer, and affordable mortgage lending officer.
Constance received her Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from the University of Phoenix and Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership & Quality from Marian University of Fond du Lac. She is an active community volunteer with her church and several organizations such as Riverworks Financial Clinic, Samed’s House (sober living for women) and The Joseph Project. In 2021 Constance was asked to serve on Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ Council on Financial Literacy and Capability.
Martha Collins, Member Services Director
Martha started with UEDA in February 2023 and is a proven senior leader with a diverse background in coalition building, program management, fund development and nonprofit advocacy in issues that promote equity and economic opportunity. She has dedicated her career to working with social justice organizations that focus on building power within marginalized communities.
Martha received a Bachelor of Science in Management Science from Cardinal Stritch University and is working to complete a Master of Business Administration at Alverno College. She is a licensed consultant with the Nonprofit Standards of Excellence.
Heather Dummer Combs, Take Root Milwaukee Program Director
Heather joined the UEDA team in March 2022 and has spent her career working for non-profit, community-based organizations, and has extensive practice in organizing, outreach, community education, and public policy advocacy. Prior to UEDA, she was Program Manager for STEM Forward and in her 25 years of experience, has worked on issues related to health care coverage, affordable housing, and food security through roles at the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, and Hunger Task Force.
Heather received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Government from Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Bread of Healing Clinic. She spends her free time ferrying her teenage son and daughter (twins) to their various activities.
Adam Bridges, Communications & Events Coordinator
(he/him or they/them)
Adam started with UEDA in September of 2023. He is pursuing a career in affordable housing and community building. He has served two terms with AmeriCorps NCCC as a Team Leader, facilitating logistics between NCCC staff, Corps Members, and local nonprofit sponsor organizations. He has previous communications and events experience from his time as the Braden Intern at Illinois State University.
Adam received a Bachelor of Science in Theatre and Film Studies with a focus in Theatre Management from Illinois State University, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Public Service at Marquette University as a Trinity Fellow. In their free time, they enjoy cooking and baking, recipe collecting, video games, and Dungeons & Dragons..
Julia O’Connor, Operations & Membership Support
Julia has been with UEDA since 2010, providing administrative support to UEDA following two terms on the UEDA Board and 25 years in community development in Indiana and Milwaukee. She provides similar services for other businesses and non-profits in the City and volunteers in her neighborhood. She is a crabby gardener who cannot grow zucchini.
- Sherri Jordan, Envision the Ladder (President)
- Barbara Markoff, Consultant (Vice President)
- Gisela Ortega, ESO Ventures (Secretary)
- Peter Richardson, Northwestern Mutual (Treasurer)
- Vaughn Barker, Barker & Barker Consulting
- Darryl Jackson, Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors
- Nikki Payne, Southeastern WI Regional Planning Commission
- Mike Ward, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)
The following provide significant financial support to UEDA and its programs. Along with our Members, they are a critical part of our success each year to facilitate collaboration, strengthen capacity, and make purposeful connections. We appreciate their investment in our work to support inspiring, thriving urban communities!
If you would like to learn more about becoming a UEDA Champion or Ambassador contact us here.