Happy Mothers Day! A Mother is the Greatest Gift of All

Friday, May 6th, 2016

MomsDay

Dear Friends of A Safe Haven & Fellow Moms,

I am daughter of a wonderful Mother of seven and I am Mother of two wonderful sons with my husband, Brian. From generation to generation, all parents realize that in even the most loving and stable environment, raising children is never easy. We also know that there is no higher priority or more important job we will ever do than taking care of and providing for our children. I think I can speak for all Moms when I say that we cannot even begin to imagine how devastating it must be for a mother to try raising her children when she is homeless.

It was when I was pregnant with our second child nearly 22 years ago that my husband and I began to think about giving back and making a difference. We began to research the issue of poverty and homelessness and became dissatisfied with the disconnected and fragmented approach of both government and philanthropy. We began the journey of building A Safe Haven, knowing that there needed to be one stop shop for anyone in need to rebuild their lives in a way that would lead to self-sufficient living. What fueled our passion, vision, and mission the most was our concern for the real lives that were being lost, and our dream to make this world a better place for not only for our children, but for all children.

Over the years, we have seen thousands of homeless mothers at ASHF who have tragically become homeless with their children, and have endured overwhelming challenges as they desperately tried to get back on their feet. We are grateful that A Safe Haven can help them to start over and invest in themselves and in their children’s futures. At ASHF, we provide all residents, including our mothers and their children, with the support they need to achieve sustainable independence.

Many of the challenges faced by homeless families seem insurmountable. What is particularly striking about the homeless mothers we meet is the prevalence of mental health conditions. Some of the leading causes of homelessness include mental illness and behavioral healthcare issues, often due to histories of depression, drug or alcohol abuse, human trafficking, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Sadly, over 70% of women in prison are also mothers, and most are incarcerated due to non-violent offenses.

It is safe to say, that almost all the mothers we see at A Safe Haven lack the resources and support they need to overcome their challenges on their own. Unfortunately, the long-term effect on children is devastating. The cost to them, their families, and society is expensive and catastrophic in terms of the long-term consequences, both human and financial.

The complication of living in unsafe or unstable housing conditions with children is exacerbated by a lack of support or resources. Significant barriers to employment exist, including low levels of education, lack of work experience, few vocational skills, substance abuse histories, and lack of childcare. Employment opportunities are limited, and clearly weigh heavily against them.

Gratefully, for over two decades, our teams of partners and supporters have joined us to tirelessly find ways to build a support system that is sustainable and gainful. Thank you for helping us to raise resources, to share powerful and inspiring stories, to spread the word on many national and international stages and platforms, to serve as an expert resource for media, to welcome guests from around the world, and to diligently enhance our programming and expand our capacity to do more.

As we honor Mothers everywhere, be sure to also celebrate that because of you, there are thousands of stories of A Safe Haven Mothers and Alums who have moved on with their lives as engaged Mothers in loving relationships with their children, and as active participants in the important milestones of their children’s lives.

Please join me in wishing all Mothers, a very Happy Mother’s Day!

Love,

 

Signature

Neli Vazquez Rowland
President and Co-Founder of
A Safe Haven Foundation

Solving Societal Problems with Business Leadership & Empowerment

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Leadership

 

Dear Friends of A Safe Haven,

Lately, I’ve been privileged to speak a great deal about leadership. We are grateful that A Safe Haven is recognized as a leader in the field of social entrepreneurship and social impact by so many leading stakeholders in the world, including top academic institutions from coast to coast in America.

It has been an honor to share our model for success that is proving to consistently solve poverty for thousands of people in crisis, from all walks of life, every year. I know sometimes we make it look easy, but as most entrepreneurs know first-hand, the early days of any new venture are rarely ever easy. In fact, they were a huge struggle for us. In retrospect, we are still in awe of how far we’ve come, considering the overwhelming challenges we faced and continue to face from external entities along the way.  In spite of all of the challenges throughout the years, we know that saving lives is 100% worth it!

For us, it all starts with leadership that understands and shares a collective vision of possibilities—leadership with the ability adhere to values in good times and in bad and leadership with the courage to take action.

Today, we could not agree more with Edelman’s research that shows that 80% of people believe businesses must lead in solving societal issues. In other words, employees today trust and want to work at businesses with authentic leaders who walk the talk. We are proud to see so many leaders and their teams joining us and being counted among many other amazing leaders from emerging and established brands. We are excited to see a growing list of corporations and private donors generously using their talent and resources to realign their values and their priorities in the community and to society with ours. Together, we are lifting the lives of those being left behind by poverty and homelessness, while at the same time lifting ourselves and society back up, up, up!

Leaders understand the power of numbers and thankfully this year, we are seeing so many taking advantage of the opportunity to sponsor, give, and participate in activities and events in the neighborhoods that need it the most.

A Safe Haven gives sincere thanks to all of our leaders including our Boards, our Staff, and our Partners, Donors, Volunteers and Sponsors for believing and doing their part. We ask the community to support them and their authentic marketing campaigns and corporate social responsibility efforts, whenever you can. Thank you all for your leadership, for believing in us, and for joining us as we all join forces to align and achieve our mutual hopes, values, and mission to improve lives and communities in a sustainable manner.

As a co-founder, social entrepreneur, philanthropist, visionary, and leader, my dreams and the dreams of our stakeholders cannot be achieved alone. Our ability to make this a better world must involve and engage an entire team made up of each and every one of us who has the ability to give a little, or a lot. It is our vision that our collective leadership efforts will be remembered as a lasting legacy of a generation who had the courage to learn from mistakes, get back up, and pave the way for a better world.

 

Onward and forward,

 

Signature

 

 

 

Neli Vazquez Rowland

President and Co-Founder of

A Safe Haven Foundation

 

Artists with Lofty Dreams Fall Victim to Homelessness – Reality Jobs Lift them Back Up!

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Artists

 

Dear Friends of A Safe Haven,

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of highlighting the incredible talent of some of ASHF’s most creative artists experiencing homelessness. Their moving stories remind us that there are incredibly talented people born with a gift for music and the arts that are today living in social and economic crisis.

Many of us living in big cities are familiar with street musicians and artists performing on street corners, subways, airports and anywhere they can find to earn money a quarter or a dollar at a time. Did you ever wonder where they live and where they go when the streets are empty and the show is over? At A Safe Haven, we are proud to have served as a significant resource to many homeless artists throughout the years.

Art, be it spoken word, acting, music, painting, etc., has been used as a tool to connect people and a valued outlet for personal expression. Art helps us to express the power of human emotions and has a way of making the human experience relatable and accessible.

At ASHF we make art a part of the healing process. Residents have the opportunity to practice their craft and showcase their gifts by practicing their writing or speaking in A Safe Haven’s educational program, or through art therapy in the behavioral health clinic. They also have the opportunity to participate and perform in on-site activities like poetry jams, talent shows, holiday events, and in offsite activities like our Music Revolution To End Homelessness or our 5k RUN! To End Homelessness. It is always exciting to see and hear our residents perform. My eyes well up with tears when I see that so many of them could definitely rival the talent on some of my guilty pleasure shows like The Voice, American Idol or America’s Got Talent.

Unfortunately, at A Safe Haven we see that for too many artists we serve, the realities of basic unmet social and economic needs do not allow them to express themselves artistically. For those who do experience a taste of early success, we also notice that one of the downsides is that they are too often impacted by issues such as substance abuse to continue their art. Too many artists disproportionately tend to be forced into poverty and homelessness.

We all know that when it comes to monetizing lofty dreams of stardom, whether in sports or the arts, the reality is that the opportunities to achieve financial success in these careers are extremely rare and highly competitive. Given the staggering facts, most people drawn to the arts must find mainstream employment in order to support themselves while they continue to pursue their passion in the arts as a career, as they find satisfaction in sharing their gifts as a hobby, or even as a way to earn extra income.

ASHF makes life and job skills training and financial literacy an integral part of the employment process. We encourage all ASHF residents to pursue their passions, and they understand intimately that pursuing a dream without a plan to support themselves along the way leads too many to a life of financial insecurity, and in the worst cases, homelessness.  ASHF’s job developers work with clients to assess their unique talents and interests, yet as we do strive to match their artistic talents with career training opportunities, we also work with them to explore a wide range of reasonable options that will allow them to earn a living wage.

Today the philanthropic community has been heavily committed to investing in the arts. In fact, Americans’ donations to arts and culture rose 9.2% to $17.23 billion in 2014, the highest increase in nine categories tracked by Giving USA, an annual report on charitable contributions.

A Safe Haven is proud of the work we do with our creative populations, of our ability to help them believe in themselves again, and in our ability to help them earn an income to support themselves and their families. I welcome ideas on how we may engage the philanthropic community to consider supporting ways in which we can work together to help support holistic and comprehensive systems to transform the lives of our talented and gifted artists, and to meet the needs of those that have fallen victim to homelessness. Too many artists have way too often been forced to abandon their dreams and live on the streets due to their dreams of fame having gone unfulfilled. As too many homeless artists live at A Safe Haven and dedicated funding for their specialized needs is scarce, more support is needed.  You can help.

Thank you, as always, for your ongoing support and for helping us raise awareness and for helping to make dreams of independence come true!

 

Signature

 

 

 

Neli Vazquez Rowland

President and Co-Founder of

A Safe Haven Foundation

 

Happy Easter

Friday, March 11th, 2016

Easter

 

Easter is the Holiest Day in the Christian religion.

The lessons and message of the Holy week give us the direction and opportunity to practice our faith with purpose. It reflects the story of pain, betrayal, and sorrow, followed by forgiveness, redemption and new beginnings—a message we strive to remember, embrace and embody in our actions as the indelible spirit of A Safe Haven.

As God taught us in his own journey, one of the most important lessons in his own life was that it is in the darkest hours that our faith is tested. It is how we ourselves, our loved ones, and society react to those challenges that will define us all and create the world in which we ultimately all reside and bequeath our children.

Those of us who Believe know that we are not alone. After what appears to be darkness, chaos, and destruction everywhere in the world and in our own lives we are required to remain encouraged and not lose our way.  It is in those times of uncertainty that we must be still—keep the faith, love our neighbor, and keep on doing good.

Because of you, A Safe Haven serves as beacon of hope and opportunity for those who are caught in the throes of crisis, poverty, and homelessness. At A Safe Haven we are Blessed to have our doors open for anyone who is ready to walk through, and embark on a path that will help them to overcome challenges, to receive compassion and understanding, to pursue redemption, and to achieve hope, love, happiness and success.

This Easter we gratefully take a moment to celebrate a life without sin and a time of renewal with our friends and family.

Let’s be sure to take the time to consider that God did not hesitate to love us.

He acted decisively, with love in his heart.  He sent us his Son to show us the way and to make the ultimate sacrifice to prove his complete love for us, so that we may learn how to follow his word and his example of how to live and love all humanity, in spite of the negative forces that try to hurt, divide or distract us- as He DID!

This Easter, in His honor and in His spirit, we will continue to do our best to renew our commitment to you and to Him, to live up to His commandments and to serve those in crisis at a time when they don’t need our judgement, but simply need someone to believe, to pray, to shelter, to feed, and to show them how to rebuild their lives and to pay it forward– long term.

The Bible clearly states:

(a variation of this same Golden Rule exists in every faith)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  – Matthew 25:40

From our family to yours, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for supporting A Safe Haven, for uniting with us as a Community and for allowing us to serve as a trusted vehicle and scalable system that for over 22 years has been dedicated to the single mission of helping to transform lives from poverty and homelessness to independence and self-sufficiency.  We could not do it without the help of all of you.

Finally, although we acknowledge that individually none of us is perfect, let’s humbly consider that together we are a Huge collective and albeit imperfect Movement that seeks to be guided by a positive and powerful spiritual Force beginning with Him thousands of years ago: A movement for Humanity. A movement that is empowered to do everything possible to accomplish the seemingly impossible and to achieve the elusive goal to make this a better world for all, one person at a time. The path we choose to follow will create our reality of tomorrow.

We are grateful for the opportunity to share with you stories of redemption and success throughout the year. Together, we will continue to grow and brighten our reflection of His hope that we may serve and help each other in times of need— to Be as God intended us all to BE.

Let’s Celebrate Easter Joyously Today, God loves us!

Neli Vazquez Rowland
President and Co-Founder of
A Safe Haven Foundation

 

Uniting to End Hunger and Homelessness

Friday, March 11th, 2016

EndHnH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Ending Poverty in All Forms Everywhere” – is the number one item on the agenda of the United Nations 2030 Sustainability Goals. Ending hunger is also included as a top listed priority for the UN. Significantly, ASHF has held these same goals since our inception 22 years ago. The way we see it, when you end the root causes of poverty, by default you will end hunger, crime, academic underachievement and so many more costly consequences of unresolved poverty issues. How can we say that? Because every day at ASHF we see formerly homelessness individuals transformed to become positive, productive and self-sufficient.

Unfortunately, today more than ever before in the history of America, poverty, homelessness and hunger is witnessed by all of us. It is seen on the streets of some of the wealthiest cities in the world including Chicago, LA and New York to name a few.

As we partner with public, private and community stakeholders, we know firsthand that solving poverty and addressing food insecurity is achievable. We are grateful to so many concerned citizens and to some of the top brands in the world that are taking the time to learn about our unique integrated model designed to solve poverty. We are encouraged that many are deciding to join us in pursuing a mutual agenda to make this a better world through a comprehensive systems approach that offers quantifiable performance metrics and real time results.

Food is the most basic need of every living being. It is what sustains us; it is what heals us; it is what unites us. There can be no greater way to connect with others than planting seeds, breaking a sweat and relishing in our accomplishments that allow us to celebrate and break bread together to enjoy the fruits of our labor- to share in this daily ritual is one of the greatest of human privileges. At A Safe Haven’s main headquarters over 400 residents and their children get to share a healthy meal together every day, often times, they even had a hand in helping us grow and/or make the meal for all to enjoy by participating in our ASHF culinary arts job training program. Sharing meals together serves as the first building block to helping those that we serve to get a sense of belonging and bonding with others. Sharing a meal goes far beyond a visceral need for survival; it’s a time to share experiences, to reflect on our days, to spend time with each other, to share our dreams and to give thanks.

Although what brings people to A Safe Haven is usually a time of crisis, we utilize this fragile time to shelter them from the negative elements, to plant new ideas, to nourish them and to help them be well fed so that they too can once again be strong enough to grow and prosper on their own.

As the of State of Illinois is experiencing major budget challenges especially for human services, we acknowledge that these are difficult times for all of us that are dedicated to being servant leaders and focused on helping the homeless. Please know that we are doing everything we can to ensure that the fruits of our collective efforts are continuing to provide the most basic human need – that is, providing the FOOD to quell the Hunger that our most vulnerable folks need in order to thrive. As you can imagine, more help is needed. Gratefully, as more like-minded and passionate people learn about our work at A Safe Haven we are thank for growing support such as generous donations through far reaching food drives and support for our community garden, as well as businesses and event planners that choose to hire A Safe Haven catering or landscaping. These are just some of the many ways that we are continuously sustained, inspired and galvanized publicly and privately by the goodness and concern of others.