2014 Public Citizen of the Year
Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr.
The Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. has led the way to hope and happiness by touching the lives of vulnerable people across New Jersey.
The Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ, Dr. Soaries is the Founder and CEO of Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc., a faith-based organization created to provide homes for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable children. In 14 years, Harvest of Hope has recruited more than 330 families to become foster parents to over 530 children and helped more than 215 children find adoptive parents.
Dr. Soaries’ work with Community Development Corporation of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens has resulted in the Family Resource Center, which provides a “one-stop shopping” approach to the delivery of human services. The Center promotes family economic stability and self-sufficiency through training, job placement, social services, and counseling.
In 2005, Dr. Soaries’ created dfree®, a campaign to lead people out of debt and attain financial independence. Dr. Soaries is the author of dfree®:Breaking Free from Financial Slavery. The dfree® strategy was the focus of the third installment of CNN’s Black in America documentary “Almighty Debt” and it is Dr. Soaries’ goal for his 7,000-member congregation that every member be debt free.
Continuing his effort to stress the importance of financial freedom, Dr. Soaries has also promoted a national anti-payday loan campaign. The campaign seeks to educate the public about predatory lenders who legally charge borrowers 300 – 800% interest on short-term loans, and to mobilize a grass roots opposition to these predatory lending practices.
Dr. Soaries served as New Jersey’s 30th Secretary of State, and currently serves as a director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York and the Independence Realty Trust in Philadelphia. In 2012, he was listed on the Annual “Power 100” List by Ebony Magazine. He is a frequent advisor to major corporations in the areas of ethics, diversity, philanthropy, and community relations.
He earned a BA at Fordham University, a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry degree at United Theological Seminary.
While he is not a social worker, Dr. Soaries lives the social work values of social and economic justice. His work has led people from debt to economic independence, given hope to those seeking home ownership, and delivered joy to foster and adoptive families.
For his steadfast commitment to improving the lives of the citizens of our state, the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is proud to present its 2014 Public Citizen of the Year Award to Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr.