MILWAUKEE — Pastor Jerome Smith of Greater Praise Church of God and leader of The Joseph Project passed away last week. According to the medical examiner, Pastor Smith died due to COVID-19 complications as well as some other contributing factors. He was 49 years old.
Smith's legacy will live on in the hundreds of people he mentored through The Joseph Project, which helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs.
Chelcee Winters-Crawford is a graduate of the program.
"It was hopeful," Winters-Crawford said of The Joseph Project. "I had doubts about the situation I was in being incarcerated and the charges and everything. I was concerned."
She has been working as a quality control technician at Denali Ingredients for just over three years, a job she got with help from Pastor Smith's work.
Winters-Crawford said she was saddened to learn the pastor died last week.
"I just really hope somebody lives on in his legacy to finish up the community building he was starting. I just hope that somebody is willing enough, like he was, to reach out to people and help them become successful," she said. "He was just there, he was supportive, he was a good person. He helped me a lot."
Paul Kortman, the Director of Human Resources at Denali Ingredients, said the company started working with the Joseph Project about four years ago. Denali currently employs 19 people who went through the program. Kortman said hundreds of people have benefited from the work Pastor Smith did.
"Pastor Smith had a huge heart for people. His whole concern was taking care of his people. He would do whatever he could to make these people successful. That was his heart," Kortman said.
Sen. Ron Johnson, who helped establish The Joseph Project alongside Pastor Smith, mourned the loss on Twitter.
"I truly hope that everyone at some point in their life gets to know someone like Pastor Smith," Sen. Johnson said. "He was the spiritual leader of the Joseph Project and will be sorely missed."
Funeral services for Pastor Jerome Smith were held earlier this month.