Warrior For Life Foundation Hands Out $15,000 In Scholarships

Franklin Township high school seniors and college freshmen received scholarship awards November 29 at the third annual Warrior For Life Scholarship Foundation gala.

More than a dozen Franklin Township students received $15,000 in scholarships November 29 during the third annual Warrior For Life Scholarship Foundation gala at the Imperia on Easton Avenue.

The awards went to current Franklin High School seniors and college freshmen.

The foundation handed out six “Community Scholarship” awards, four “Warrior For Life Scholarship” awards, and two “Warrior For Life” awards.

The awardees are “doing an outstanding job in the classroom, on the stage, in the community and much more,” said Nicholas Solomon, a co-founder of the organization.

The foundation received 63 award applications from 39 students, Solomon said.

“They all did a fantastic job and made it very difficult for us to decide,” he said.

Addressing the awardees, Solomon said, “Through your application and interview process, we saw something in you that expressed you are a scholar, a giving person and you represent what a Warrior for Life means.”

One of the newer scholarship is funded by the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, principal pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens.

This is Soaries’ last year of heading the congregation; he announced his retirement earlier this year.

Soaries told the attendees of his friendship with the late Samuel Proctor, a mentor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and one of Soaries’ professors at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Soaries said he was doing graduate work in Ohio when Proctor told him that he had recommended Soaries to head the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, in Somerset, which was losing its second pastor to retirement.

Proctor was also a Franklin resident, Soaries said.

“I was a bit concerned because, first of all, I couldn’t find Lincoln Gardens,” Soaries said. “Then I was concerned because Somerset didn’t have a mayor, Somerset didn’t have a school system. I thought Somerset was a city, I didn’t realize that Somerset was a section of Franklin.”

“But Sam Proctor said to me that in this community are some of the finest people you will meet in your life, First Baptist has the potential to be one of the finest churches in the country, and he was so enamored with the people who live in this town that it took me a long time for me to understand really what he meant,” Soaries said.

“Tonight is further evidence that you are the people my professor and my mentor said you are,” Soaries said.”You are people that take education seriously, you are people that are exemplary in your willingness to rise about the traditional lines of division and come together for a common cause, and you are the people who are willing to invest in the futures of young people who will grow into the leaders of not only this community, but this entire nation.”

Soaries, who started at the church in 1990, said he has “found this community to be progressive and to be innovative, and to be a pacesetter-type community.”

“These awards, this Warrior for Life concept, and all of this gathering, is very unique because there are very few places in America where you will find people dressed up, raising money to give other people on the Friday night after Thanksgiving,” he said.

“We are honored and we are going to make sure that we support this scholarship financially to make sure that our name is attached to something that we’ve invested in,” Soaries said.

Presented the “Warrior For Life” awards were Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) and Peter Stavrianidis, owner of Venus Jewelers of Somerset.

Francois, whose latest project is the Lewis Street youth center, said “it is an honor and a privilege to stand here before you tonight and receive this award.”

The youth center, she said, has “been the most important project I’ve ever worked on in my 16 years as an elected official. It means a lot to me, and I pray, and I hope, and I wish that that center will inspire and enrich the lives of youth to help them build productive lives and healthy lifestyles.”

“This is the biggest honor I’ve ever had, and it means so much to me,” she said. “This is a great organization, they do so much for youth, and it’s all about the youth.”

“I believe everything begins with a myth, and if we believe enough in the myth, we can make it reality,” Stavrianidis said after receiving his award.

Stavrianidis said he moved to Franklin several years after serving a two-year stint in Viet Nam, after emigrating to the United States from Greece at the age of 15.

“I got to meet so many of you wonderful people,” he said. “I love gems and I love people. I look at people like gems; different colors, different personalities.”

“Different characteristics, but to me, they’re all precious,” he said. “And every single one of us has a mission. I try to live my mission.”

Here are the scholarship awardees:

  • Franklin Township Supervisors and Administrators Association Scholarship Award: Maleah Moon
  • Len Rivers Diversity and Inclusion Achievement Scholarship Award: Rebecca Akande
  • Community Pay It Forward: Arthur Robert Moore Scholarship Award: Brianno Rao
  • Community Pay It Forward: Doris Wilson: Courtney Nicholson
  • Sheryl Lynn Rosenbaum Encouraging Achievement Scholarship Award: Afsheen Ahmed and Selma Mehmedagic
  • Alexandar Brian Tatum Encouraging Achievement Scholarship Award: Nia Abdulah and Nylah Miles
  • William Westfield Legacy Award: Arnov Tolat
  • Dennis Harris Legacy Scholarship Award: Jack Prio
  • Mr. and Mrs. Carl and Theresa Wade Academic Excellence Award: Fatmata Nallo
  • Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm and Barbara Bernard Historically Black College & University Award: Kayla Smith
  • Myra A. Mitchell Financial Need and Trafedy Award: Estella Bobadilla-Cruz
  • Reverend Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr. Legacy Award: Julien Hector

The gala was the penultimate offering in the Warrior For Life foundation’s “I Love Franklin” week of events.

The final event is the induction of the latest class of the Franklin High School Hall of Fame, set to begin at 1 p.m. November 30 at the high school.

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate live-streamed from the scholarship gala, speaking with the foundation’s founders and several student awardees:


Here are some scenes from the evening:

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