Reverend DeForest “Buster” Soaries - minister, author, renowned speaker, and public advocate - is the Warrior for Life Scholarship Foundation’s 2019 Legacy Scholarship Honoree.
Founded in 2017, the Warrior For Life Scholarship Foundation generates scholarship funds for Franklin High School Students and build a positive network of Franklin alumni. A Legacy Honoree is chosen each year who has left their mark on Franklin Township by improving the lives of community members while paving the way for the success and excellence of Franklin’s future generations.
“We believe that since the nineties, Reverend Soaries has been a pillar of our community, specifically when it came to our children and our schools,” said Rebekah Solomon, co-founder of the Warrior for Life Scholarship Foundation. “He is really a huge advocate for education and for the parental community, as well as an advocate for school involvement in a child's life.”
Dr. Soaries, who holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary, became Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset in 1990. Dr. Soaries centered his pastoral leadership on empowering the Franklin Township community through spiritual growth, educational excellence, and financial literacy and responsibility. His belief in faith-based community development helped his teachings to quickly extend beyond his church’s walls.
“He’s done a lot for the community in which the church sits in,” Solomon said. “This is especially true for families of lower income brackets.”
In 1992, Dr. Soaries founded the Central Jersey Community Development Corporation (CJCDC), a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for families living in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Central Jersey through social, educational, and economic interventions. According to the CJCDC website, the organization was the first of its kind in Central Jersey to use a ‘holistic approach’ to solving the short and long term problems faced by all members of vulnerable families while helping them to develop skills and talents to reach their full personal and professional potential.
Just four years later, Soaries founded the Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc. (HOH), an organization looking to mobilize communities around the country to support the sustainability of their local foster care system. The organization has the goal of recruiting, training, and licensing 10,000 foster families by 2020. In its first 19 years of existence, HOH recruited 455 families that became state-approved for foster family licensing and has placed 1,440 children into foster homes.
From 1999 to 2002, Dr. Soaries served as Secretary of State of New Jersey under Governor Christine Todd Whitman. He was the first African-American male to do so. In this position, he continued to advocate for the state’s youth by establishing New Jersey’s Center for Youth Policy and Programs and launching V-free, a youth violence prevention program. During his time in politics, he was also tapped by President George W. Bush to be chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission, which was established by Congress to implement the “Help America Vote Act of 2002.
In 2005, back home in New Jersey, Dr. Soaries piloted the dfree® Financial Freedom Movement, which promotes the elimination of debt through value-based principles and strategies for financial management. The strategy, which has the goal of helping individuals achieve financial freedom to build wealth for future generations. The pilot of dfree® was a massive success, and the program continues to grow. In 2010, dfree® was featured in a 90-minute CNN documentary entitled “Almighty Debt”. It is currently employed across the country by over 3,000 churches and organizations and has helped over 30,000 people reduce and even eliminate their debt.
Dr. Soaries, who is also the author of seven books including “Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom”, “Meditations for Financial Freedom - Volumes 1&2” and “Say Yes When Life Says No”, has recently started targeting the youth with his financial management strategies – something that the Warrior For Life Foundation found remarkable.
In 2018, Dr. Soaries, hosted a dfree® Homecoming Conference which emphasized financial empowerment. In addition to inviting Pastors, community leaders, and educators, Dr. Soaries also invited Franklin High School students to attend the conference.
“He basically opened the door for youth financial literacy on the community level,” Solomon said. “Inviting the youth into financial conversations regarding how to remain debt free, how to go to college but not be broke while they're doing it … we thought this was huge.”
To Solomon, Dr. Soaries’ outreach to the local youth is vital to the advancement of the Foundation's own mission.
“Warrior For Life is all about the youth, giving the youth a voice, ensuring that they are not just little people in the room, but larger portions of our foundation at the table with a voice telling us what they need so we can provide it for them,” Solomon said. “Reverend Soaries’ conference aligned with these goals, and really made him stand out as a Honoree this year.”
Dr. Soaries, now 67, recently announced that he will retire are Pastor of the First Baptist Church in November 2020 after 30 years of service. However, his legacy will undoubtedly persist. Dr. Soaries reaches ever-growing audiences through the authorship of new books, including “Say Yes When Life Says No” as well as through his Sirius XM radio show “For Your Soul with Dr. Soaries”. Dr. Soaries also facilitates dialogue among the youth surrounding the intersection of popular culture, spirituality, and economic well-being through his widely followed social media channels. One can often find him analyzing the lyrics of artists like Kanye West and Drake while tying in themes of financial management and personal spirituality.
By continuing to creatively and meaningfully engage with the future leaders of Franklin Township and beyond, Dr. Soaries words are likely to stick around for generations to come.
Dr. Soaries will be recognized at the 3rd Annual Warrior for Life Scholarship Foundation Gala Fundraiser. Alongside the nomination of an Honoree, the Legacy Scholarship is awarded to a Franklin High School senior, a recent Franklin alumni, or a first-year vocational or trade school student who has established a legacy within the Franklin Township community. These contributions can be through the student’s involvement with athletics, the arts, community service projects, or other volunteer efforts.
The Gala will be held at the Imperia on November 29th, 2019. Tickets can be purchased here.