A local church on Madison’s east side will serve as a new site to improve racial disparities in Dane County through a faith-based employment program.

The Joseph Project, which began in Milwaukee last year and will debut in Madison next month, is geared toward helping people find job opportunities in Wisconsin.

The Joseph Project’s mission is to connect those in need of jobs with opportunities provided by local businesses in Wisconsin. The one-week program provides training classes including spiritual fitness, conflict resolution, stress management, goal setting, mock interviews and financial management to help equip its attendees with adequate skills to attain stable jobs.

The project, founded at Milwaukee’s Greater Praise Church of God in Christ, was created under the leadership of Pastor Jerome Smith and Orlando Owens, a staffer working for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to address unemployment and underemployment among people of color.

Smith said the Joseph Project was first created in Milwaukee to employ those in need.

In an effort to expand the impact of the Joseph Project outside of Milwaukee, Owens said they chose Madison to hold the employment program because of the prevalent racial disparities seen in the community.

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“The Madison area has one of the highest percentages of African Americans unemployed,” Owens said. “It mirrors Milwaukee in the sense that it has high levels of poverty and unemployment.”

An emphasis on faith is an integral part of the program. Smith said the spiritual fitness class teaches people how they should conduct themselves based on biblical principles, utilizing excerpts from the bible to support their curriculum.

But the intersection of religion and social services can be complicated, Shawn Peters, University of Wisconsin lecturer in religion and law, said.

Religious organizations that provide social services are important because sometimes they are able to provide social services when the government cannot, Peters said. But in doing so, separation between church and state is weakened.

“It’s a hard ethical issue because on the one hand you want to help people, but on the other hand you don’t want to mess up the establishment clause in the First Amendment,” Peters said. “Controversies like this involve a balance between the needs of the people versus what the constitutional traditions are.”

Smith, however, is optimistic about the future of the Joseph Project.

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Though it is only one year old, the Joseph Project has already brought many jobs to people who have enrolled and completed the program. Out of the 140 people who have taken the class, 80 of them have gotten jobs and 30 are in the process of interviewing for positions, Smith said.

“To see that 90 percent of the people that come through our door are black males who possibly have some criminal background are working, paying child support, paying rent and are able to buy books for their children — the impact is tremendous,” Owens said.

Moving forward, Smith hopes to expand the Joseph Project in Wisconsin and to other states as well.

Classes for the Joseph Project will be provided at Capital City Sanctuary Church of God under the leadership of superintendent Raymond Davis. Classes are slated to begin Oct. 3.