Two decades ago, Camden County hoped to recognize residents who spend significant time and energy throughout their lives toward helping others.
Having honored over 500 residents since its inception, the county once again has recognized 13 selfless contributors at the 2020 Camden County Freedom Medal Ceremony Jan. 22.
The award, created by the Freeholder Board in 2001, is presented to civic leaders who demonstrate the ideals and actions that reflect the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Each year since 2001, we ask the community to help us identify Camden County residents who exemplify the ideals indicative of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr.
“This year we are honoring 14 selfless individuals who have made significant contributions to their community. We gather to celebrate them in hopes of their message inspiring others to serve the public interest.”
According to the MLK Freedom Medal Committee, nominees must be exemplary citizens living in Camden County who have demonstrated significant contributions in the areas of community service. Any individual is eligible to submit a nomination, but residents should not be nominated simply for exemplary employment performance.
During the ceremony, a member of the freeholder board briefly introduced each of the 13 recipients, before a short video illustrating the person’s actions, background and hopes moving forward.
For the Sicklerville area, Dominic Vesper, Bishop Anthony J. Harley and Harry Earle were recognized for their community contributions.
Vesper, a resident of Gloucester Township, is a deputy Camden County administrator who the freeholder board said has been able to do significant good for others while serving in his role.
“What Dominic has done over the past several years is leverage his position with the county to do good for others,” Cappelli said. “For example, he started a fundraising drive many, many years ago that leads to families in need being fed at Thanksgiving time. In fact, this year, thanks to his efforts, over 2,000 people were fed at Thanksgiving that otherwise would not have been fed.”
Vesper also is a founding member of the Camden County Addiction Task Force. Since its inception in 2014, the task force has helped to expand access, treatment and other help for residents who face addiction.
“This task force has implanted policies, raised money and provided a countless amount of hope for people,” Vesper explained. “One of the main things the task force has also done is ensure that every police force in Camden County has NARCAN and is trained in the use of NARCAN.”
Looking back, Vesper said it’s his belief that in order to really effect change and positively make a difference in others’ lives, help should be offered without judgment.
Also honored with the Freedom Award during the Jan. 22 ceremony was Harley, a resident of Winslow Township for over 35 years. Freeholder Melinda Kane presented the award to the bishop, saying the great thing about the honorees is their determination to fulfill their aspirations as they pertain to helping others.
“One of the things that strikes me about this evening is that our recipients not only have great ideas, but they made those ideas a reality,” Kane added. “They’ve shown to take the next step and make it a reality.”
Harley has remained involved in community programs for decades, including helping to organize a parade in Winslow Township in the ’80s to address violent activity. In 1994, Harley founded the Lighthouse of Deliverance Gospel Church in Lindenwold, where he reached the bishop rank. In part with the church, he also has worked toward helping others, regardless of their religious views.
“Within the Camden County community, I’ve been privileged to serve as a pastor for more than 25 years,” Harley explained. “One of the things we’ve done is created Neighbors Who Care, which focuses on reaching folks outside the church … demonstrating the love and character of God to people so people within our community will know that someone really cares about them. For me, that’s been really rewarding.”
Honoree Harry Earle retired as chief from the Gloucester Township Police Department in late 2019. He served with the department for 32 years, including nine years as chief. As a lifelong resident of Camden County, freeholder Young said, Earle has always been a role model for others by helping to serve and protect others from danger.
“Harry has consistently taken on leadership roles while dedicating his personal and professional life to learning how to help those affected by violence, addiction, lack of education, mental illness and more,” Young said.
During his presentation, Earle said he was honored to receive an award associated with Dr. King.
“When I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think about leadership and his passion for equal rights,” Earle emphasized. “To receive an award associated with somebody like that is just an amazing honor.”
Earle has served on numerous boards and with various committees to implement changes across Camden County and help change the lives of many. Potentially one of the most important is the development within Gloucester Township of Project SAVE, which connects low-level substance abusers with supporting agencies. Earle also created a program that assists runaway youth and identifies victims of sexual exploitation.