Those who praise and those who plan came together recently at the second annual dfree conference held at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey this past weekend. The dfree program encourages people to eliminate debt. The conference brought together more than 350 ministers and community members from eleven states including California, Oregon, Texas and North Carolina.
Rev. DeForest Soaries, Jr., Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, said participants were eager to go back to their communities to implement strategies from the conference. “The onus is on us now to continue feeding them with information and encouragement and tools to make their jobs easier,” he said.
Participants praise the dfree experience
One of those participants was Elaine Pinion, a retired federal government investigator from Edison, New Jersey. She recently joined First Baptist Church and was a first-time conference attendee. Pinion said she wanted to learn more about investing and how to manage her finances better.
She said attending the conference was empowering.
“We’ve received a lot of information that I intend to share with my daughter,” Pinion said.
“I wish I had something like this at a very young age. I could have better prepared for my future,” she added.
Tackling student debt isssue
Student loans and easy access to credit cards in college are just some of the ways young adults amass debt. The dfree program wants to break the cycle of debt with the youth, among other demographics.
“Students get into credit card debt because they don’t know any better,” said Jasmine Miles, a recent college graduate. Miles also works on dfree’s college initiatives. She said it is important to make the advice relevant for young people. The upcoming dfree youth initiative will use celebrities and athletes as examples for good and bad financial planning.
Robert Lightsey, a business owner from south New Jersey, attended the conference on the advice of his mother. He said the conference exposed him and his wife to many organizations and financial options.
He also planned to share what he learned with his two teenagers.
“We can teach them so that they don’t fall into the same traps that we did when we were younger, especially with student loans,” Lightsey said.
“They can learn from our mistakes and we can fix our mistakes also,” he said.
Helping families manage money
Tracey Lonon, a medical coder from New Brunswick, New Jersey, attended the conference to find ways to help her 13-year-old niece prepare for college. Lonon has custody of her niece after her sister died suddenly last year.
“I’m here at the conference to talk about the best way to invest her money,” said Lonon.
Lonon said she has heard Pastor Soaries preach dfree concepts since 2005. The dfree program helped her build her savings, which came in handy when she lost her job last year while also mourning her sister.
Taking the movement on the road
The conference was just one way to reach the community. Pastor Soaries will commence dfreedom rides in 2014 to highlight solutions to the debt crisis plaguing many Americans.
“We will have a dfreedom ride to tear down the walls of financial ignorance, financial bondage, financial incapacity,” said Soaries.
Pastor Soaries has created a set of books and workbooks to complement his live events aimed at helping Americans, particularly black Americans get out of debt. He also started the Billion Dollar Challenge, a web site that can help participants eliminate debt.
“We’re going to the hot spots of economic deprivation to take people tools,” he said.
Shartia Brantley is a producer and on-air reporter at CNBC. Follow Shartia on Twitter at @shartiabrantley