“Look beyond your past.”  That was the message on Wednesday, Jan. 11, at the Criminal Justice Reform Roundtable in Milwaukee that featured the Joseph Project. The Joseph Project started as a constituent service through the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in collaboration with Greater Praise Church of God in Christ in Downtown Milwaukee. The project expanded in 2018 to Green Bay and found its home at the Micah Center. The Joseph Project is a faith-based program that connects people to jobs. Participants go through a 4-day life skills training program and then are offered a chance to interview with a company willing to hire at a living wage.

On Wednesday, the roundtable panel was hosted by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson with Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner, Deputy Assistant to the President Ja’Ron Smith and Pastor Jerome Smith at Greater Praise Church. In attendance was our Green Bay Joseph Project Coordinator Eugene Smalls, Case Manager Jenna Mobile and Director of Community Engagement Alexa Priddy.

At the heart of The Joseph Project is the message that your past doesn’t have to be the determiner of your future. Graduates of the project as well as the 84th Joseph Project class attended and talked about their struggles and how the project helped give them the boost they needed to achieve success. Senator Johnson told participants, “Succeed for yourself, and it will all spill over and benefit others.”

Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner spoke about his commitment to criminal justice reforms and how this became a passion of his after a family member was incarcerated. Then, he saw firsthand how the system worked. Mr. Kushner spearheaded the First Step Act and worked directly with Sen. Johnson to get it passed. Many of the 84th class stood when asked if criminal justice reforms like the First Step Act helped them transition from prison to society with success. One graduate said, “It’s up to you to change. I look myself in the mirror and I’m proud of myself.”

To date, The Joseph Project across Wisconsin boasts 670 graduates with two-thirds being hired onto full-time employment and 31% still being employed today.

In Green Bay, project participants have made lasting connections to employment with the help of business leaders and companies willing to partner with St. John’s and Senator Ron Johnson’s Office. In the most recent graduating class from November 2019, participants spoke about the impact on their lives:

“I gained knowledge, wisdom and a lot more confidence. I am more in tune with myself and who I am and what I want to do to improve my future.” – Porsha

“The Joseph Project is far more than a workforce readiness program. It helped teach me how to live a better life, because the simple lessons apply to everything.” – Steve Giese

The next class of the Green Bay Joseph Project will take place in February. Visit the webpage for details: https://www.stjohnhomelessshelter.org/josephproject.