The Rev. Roger Vest has been called a lot of things by his peers during his 2 years in Harlem, including "Bunny," "Pumpkinhead" and "supernatural force of nature.''
The Rev. Roger Vest, the Harlem Women's Club 2004 Outstanding Citizen of the Year, listens to Harlem Mayor Scott Dean as he sits with his daughter, Mary Frances, 7, and his wife, Bonnie.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
Vest's newest title came Thursday when he was named as the Harlem Women's Club 2004 Outstanding Citizen of the Year.
"What a great gift we have been given to have Roger in our midst," said Julie Miller, Family Connection coordinator. Vest is a Family Connection board member, and he regularly works with Miller on projects and ideas. "After a meeting with Roger, I feel how my cell phone must feel after it has been stuck on the charger. I'm revved up, excited and energized," she said.
And when Vest is asking, no one dares say no to the man who turns no one down, Miller said.
Vest, who was invited to the surprise roast-style tribute under the guise of performing the devotional, was emotional and speechless when he figured out the ruse that involved many Harlem residents.
"The only thing I will say about the people of Harlem is their honesty," Vest said with a laugh. "There's been a lot of lying going on."
Vest moved to Harlem less than three years ago - with his wife, Bonnie, and children Grady, 10, and Mary Frances, 7 - to minister at the Harlem United Methodist Church.
The seventh annual award was given to Vest because of his natural need and ability to motivate and serve his peers, said those in attendance.
"Roger is a unique individual," Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said to Vest. "In the few short years you have been in Harlem, you have made a huge footprint. There's not a project that benefits the city that in one form or fashion does not have your fingerprints on it somewhere."
Vest said he has always had a desire to join, volunteer or otherwise be helpful and lead others to better the community.
"Don't wait for someone else to give you permission," Vest said to the filled Women's Club building. "You see something that needs doing, do it. Jesus, as an example, that's what he did. He didn't wait for the powers that be to tell him, 'You ought to do it this way or do it that way.' He just went, served those in need and gave of himself."
In only a few short years, Vest was instrumental in the city's smooth transition from police department and fire department to a single department of public safety as a citizen on the committee to oversee the change.
He is also an ex officio board member of the Harlem Economic Development and Industry Foundation, from which he developed the Summer Feeding Program for the county's youths.
Vest also worked with nearby Harlem Baptist Church to organize Sonfest and Mission 1:10, which was designed to bring the community together despite residents' individual differences.
"Roger has taught our church family how to reach out, minister across the community, across the racial divide, across the cultural divide," said Linda Culpepper, a member of Harlem Baptist.
Dean said Vest is an invaluable asset to Harlem.
"In the Bible, Scripture talks about a man after God's own heart," Dean said. "Man looks at the outward appearance. But the Lord looks at the heart. And there is not a better heart that serves the citizens of this community than Roger Vest.''
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