Co-Executive Director

Brenda Coley is the Co-Executive Director of Milwaukee Water Commons. Over the years she has served in various positions in the non-profit and academic sectors and brings a long-standing commitment to social justice and community organizing.  She has been a non-profit director, research coordinator and project manager with expertise in leadership development and organizational capacity building.


Before joining Milwaukee Water Commons, Coley was sole proprietor of Brenda Coley & Associates, helping local and national organizations build the cultural competence to approach marginalized populations around health, leadership development and social justice issues.  In addition, she has served on many community engagement boards and public health initiatives, specifically focused on equality and health disparities within the LGBTQ and other minority communities in Milwaukee. 


Coley is committed to exploring the influences of one’s own culture and understanding ways in which groups of people are treated in society, using that knowledge to develop strategies to effectively engage diverse groups of people in important community issues.



Co-Executive Director

Kirsten Shead is the Co-Executive Director of Milwaukee Water Commons. She has an unwavering commitment to social justice, environmental stewardship and the Milwaukee community at large.

Kirsten has worked with MWC in varying capacities since 2014 – as a community partner, serving on the Advisory Team, as a Community Organizer focused on lead in drinking water and access to blue-green jobs, and as Water City Program Manager. 

Kirsten has a B.S. in chemistry and broad experience working in education, industry and environmental labs. She left the corporate world in 2009 for the nonprofit sector. From 2013-2017 she served as program director for the Interfaith Earth Network, utilizing her passion for interfaith understanding, collaboration, and dialogue. She joined the MWC team full-time in 2018.

Kirsten strives for a simple life, emphasizing relationships, community, justice, nonviolence, and peacemaking. She loves exploring the natural world – scuba diving, kayaking, camping, and other wilderness adventures.



Water City Program Coordinator

Rhonda Nordstrom joined Milwaukee Water Commons in 2019 as a Water City Program Coordinator. She leads our Water School program and helps advance our Water City Agenda through her work on our Arts & Culture, Education & Recreation, and Drinking Water Initiatives.

Prior to joining Milwaukee Water Commons, Rhonda spent most of her career in public education and public health settings.  Bringing education, advocacy, coalition, and equity building experience to work on behalf of our waters continues a career at the intersection of environmental, community, and personal health. Having always had a professional goal of working on water issues, she’s glad for the opportunity to widely engage with how people connect to, care for, and enjoy the benefits of our waters. 

When not working, you’ll most likely find her biking, hiking, cooking, or dancing, ideally with friends and family.




Melanie Ariens is a Milwaukee area mixed media artist who uses creative work to communicate about issues surrounding the Great Lakes and freshwater access. She has been with MWC from the beginning, playing a leading role in our annual We Are Water event which celebrates the city’s diversity, highlights local creatives, and engages the community in care, keeping and celebration of water right at the shoreline. Melanie also designs logos and promotional materials for our events as well as coordinating water themed art projects for our Water School program.

Her goal is to get people to think about water issues in a non-traditional way, by evoking a simple metaphor or tapping into a spiritual connection to water. She loves unexpected and surprising ways to insert watery artwork and creativity into the public sphere.  You can find her work on the public boat docks along the Milwaukee River, and on the new manhole covers she designed for Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. In addition, she has led many community art projects throughout the City, such as the Somos Agua mural on nine pillars under I-94 as part of the Watermarks project she facilitated with the United Community Center’s Acosta Middle School.



Water City Program Manager

Joe Fitzgerald began volunteering with Milwaukee Water Commons in 2016. He now works as a Water City Program Manager organizing initiatives to improve water quality and to advance inclusive pathways to blue green employment and water equity in Milwaukee and around the Great Lakes.

A product of the Milwaukee Public Schools, Fitzgerald graduated from Northland College with a double major in natural resources and geosciences, with an emphasis in ecological restoration and water sciences. Since graduating, Joe’s career has taken him throughout the Midwest to research the biological and chemical health of freshwater systems. Through his role with Milwaukee Water Commons, Joe has worked locally and with leaders around the country to reimagine and reform sustainable and intersectional water systems.

From a neighborhood, in the woods, or on a lake or river, Joe has always been interested in learning from the people and places around him.  He carries those perspectives into his own work advocating for social and environmental justice.

Erik Desotelle


Water City Program Coordinator

Erik Desotelle joined the Milwaukee Water Commons in April of 2022 as Water City Program Coordinator.  His role is to facilitate the Green Infrastructure Initiative through the Branch Out Milwaukee campaign.  


Erik graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a B.S. in Urban Forestry and a minor in Economics.  While in school, he earned his permaculture design certificate in Kenya, served as the Public Information Officer of the UWSP Fire Crew, and worked as an undergraduate research fellow at the Morton Arboretum.


Prior to joining the team, Erik spent 5 years working in the nursery industry in a variety of roles, including landscape design and installation, sales, and inventory.  He remains an active member of the green industry.  He serves as an adjunct instructor of horticulture at Gateway Technical College, is a member of the Wisconsin Arborist Association, and provides educational talks for organizations like Master Gardeners, UW Extension, Wild Ones, and more.

Image by Mourad Saadi


Central Team Member

Water is the central member of the Water Commons team. Water is 60% of most mammal bodies, 70% of the earth’s surface, and over 90% of most plants. Constantly in motion, water changes from liquid to vapor to ice and is part of every season. The water most familiar to us in Milwaukee is the 10,000 year old great lakes system of above ground rivers and underground aquifers connected to the southwest shore of Lake Michigan.


In the Anishinaabe language, all of the Great Lakes are known by one name, Michigami, the vast place. Although we conduct our business in English, Milwaukee Water Commons serves communities who use many languages and we recognize the names for water given by the Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Menominee, Ho-Chunk and Oneida nations who have been stewards of the water in this place for many centuries: Mbish Nibi Nepēw Nįįna and Ohnekanus. Like these nations, we recognize the role and the rights of water in our world.

Water is essential, it is spiritual. We are water.