In 1996, Rev. Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBCLG) was approached by former New Jersey Governor Christine “Christie” Todd Whitman about the foster care epidemic. Just as the opioid epidemic today is causing an increase in children being removed from their homes, the crack epidemic of the 1990s held a vicious grip on urban communities with a specific impact on African-American families. The State of New Jersey needed additional homes for children in foster care including “boarder” babies who had been abandoned by their parents and left boarding in New Jersey hospitals despite having been medically cleared for discharge. Rev. Soaries brought this heartbreaking need to the FBCLG congregation, and the church responded faithfully by starting Harvest of Hope, their foster care ministry. When the foster care epidemic was brought to our attention 20 years ago, First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBCLG) of Somerset, New Jersey, incorporated foster care into its scope of ministry and network of services.
FBCLG became a foster parent recruitment resource, and the First Baptist Community Development Corporation, a not-for-profit formed by the church, managed the process. Out of this ministry emerged the Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc., a non-sectarian, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization to become our permanent response to the foster care crisis.
HOH created a systematic approach to recruiting, training and retaining foster parents to nurture and care for children who cannot be cared for by their biological parents. New Jersey churches became our partners in this process.
The accomplishments of HOH exceeded all of our original expectations. Beginning in 1996, Harvest of Hope has recruited and trained over 465 families to open licensed resource homes. Harvest of Hope also placed over 1,440 children in these resource homes, finding permanent adoptive homes for more than 265 children. In 2015, Harvest of Hope and FBCLG witnesses its first cohort of adopted babies graduate from high school and leave for college with the prayers, love, and continued support of their families and congregation.
The success of those young people was made possible by God’s faithfulness toward them, and their access to the “Open Heart, Open Home” Community that Rev. Soaries pioneered at FBLCG. Rev. Soaries presented a need to the congregation and not only linked it to scripture, but to the focus of his pastoral ministry (spiritual growth, educational excellence, economic empowerment, and faith-based community development), and the values in which the ministry is rooted (worship, discipleship, fellowship, stewardship, and pastoral care).