A Safe Haven: A Place Where the Need is Great & The People Are Grateful!

Thanksgiving at A Safe Haven Foundation 2016
A Safe Haven thanks IL Governor Bruce Rauner, who stopped by for our Thanksgiving Brunch.

My Dear Friends,

This holiday season, I’d like to highlight Maya Angelou’s beautiful sentiment, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” In the midst of so much social unrest and polarization in America today, A Safe Haven remains focused on the things that unify people. We believe that as Americans, we are one collective humanity, united by our common ideals and belief in the American Dream.

From A Safe Haven’s perspective in our very small corner of the universe, our vision and mission have never been clearer. I am extremely proud that we have never wavered in our belief that the overwhelming majority of people are inherently good, and that every human being is valuable. This clarity of vision, mission, and purpose has helped us continuously help those who society often leaves behind.

Today, our vision is anchored in a strong history of results that prove our approach to addressing poverty works, one person at a time. We have witnessed that the American Dream is attainable for most of our brothers and sisters, as long as they get the right kind of help. I am profoundly grateful that thousands of you also share a similar belief. Together, we can address the root causes of poverty and homelessness, usher people back into the workforce, find them permanent housing, and restore their pride and purpose. The societal and economic cost of ignoring those in turmoil is simply too great.

From my personal experience growing up in a first generation immigrant/entrepreneurial family, working in finance for over a decade in the private sector, and building a social services and social business enterprise model, the principles for success have always remained the same: we must have a plan, and a model that can be modified and scaled. At A Safe Haven, this belief has never wavered, and our model has consistently produced positive results.

Our integrated “eco-system” is anchored in assessing each individual and creating an exit strategy to move them from poverty and homelessness to their highest level of independence. It is this individualized plan that guides everyone we serve to begin taking the right steps to achieve important milestones on their path to long-term self-sufficiency. I’m reminded of the ancient Chinese Proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Here at A Safe Haven, we believe that to truly help those we serve, we must do both—feed them and teach them to fish until they can survive on their own.

We attribute our significant grassroots growth to the powerful word of mouth of our successful testimonials and our like-minded donors and funders. It is because of so many of you that A Safe Haven was able to step in when government funding was cut and continue to rebuild lives, reunite families, create jobs, and rebuild entire communities. Our unique, integrated network of private/public/community partners have helped us achieve what none of us could achieve on our own. We hope that as a loyal follower and/or supporter of A Safe Haven that you are beaming with pride and joy as you share in the successes of those we have collectively helped get back on their feet.

In the last couple of years, we are grateful that more and more people are noticing our work. Thanks to your support, invitations, and nominations, the work of A Safe Haven is becoming widely known around the globe. I’ve been honored to speak on top stages around the world, and be recognized by leading stake holders in business, government, policy, and academic circles for our innovative and comprehensive model. This month, I was also honored to serve on a very prestigious entrepreneurial and business panel at the Illinois Latino Caucus event. As a recent Latino Leaders Magazine Maestro Award Honoree, I was also honored to be featured for our innovative work with homelessness in the November issue of the Latino Leaders Magazine. While we are grateful for the recognition and credit, we know that our success is your success, due to your support and shared vision.

As we all celebrate this holiday season with friends, family, and loved ones, let’s take a moment to share in the joy of giving back. It only takes a moment to ensure that our neighbors in crisis have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, become independent, and live up to their true potential. In advance of November 29th, and Giving Tuesday, please find us on Facebook and Twitter and be sure to share our Giving Tuesday banner and invite others to join us in our mission to help the homeless right here in Chicago. This year, 100% of the donations from Giving Tuesday will go toward covering the costs of transporting our homeless populations to job interviews and medical appointments as they reenter the workforce and get back on their feet. At A Safe Haven, we transport almost 5,000 people a year from our main campus to jobs, interviews, and medical appointments. The transportation expense can cost up to $20,000 a month in Chicago Transit Authority bus cards, an expense that we sincerely believe it worth every penny.

We understand that choosing where to direct your charitable activities and year-end giving isn’t an easy one. As you are inundated by paper mail, commercials, and emails of innumerable worthy causes to give to, please consider A Safe Haven. As good stewards of your precious resources, we can lift up the lives of poverty stricken populations in need, and empower them to pursue their own American Dreams.

Finally, thank you for the gift of your friendship. We are truly blessed and grateful to have your support, during the holiday season, and throughout the year.

Love Always,


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

Rebuilding Fathers Lives to Achieve Family Reunification… An Investment Worth Making!


“We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”
– President Barack Obama, Father’s Day Remarks 2008

The national dialogue surrounding fatherless children weighs heavily on my mind, and the minds of so many leaders in and around Chicago. The challenges unique to fatherless households are overwhelming, and poverty is almost always at the core. The long-term consequences of this issue are extremely damaging not only to children, but to our entire society.

At A Safe Haven Foundation, we know this struggle well. We house and serve nearly 1,000 children annually, the majority of whom come from single parent households. We also house hundreds of youth (18-24 year olds) who have grown up without a father. Last year alone, we housed and served over 1,200 single parents, many of whom were fathers with children in the care of a single mother, or extended family member. Sadly, many single parents we serve also have children in the foster care system due to homelessness, unemployment, addictions, and incarceration history.

A Safe Haven understands the value of providing at-risk youth with role models in the community, and we offer numerous volunteer mentoring programs that result in positive relationships. We also prioritize helping single mothers, and make a point to house and support them as a high-need population. I am always amazed by the heroism of single moms as they single-handedly raise their kids. However, less attention is given to the equally important role of separated, poverty-stricken, and homeless fathers—a population A Safe Haven has identified specifically because their needs and issues are often overlooked.

Due to our unique community role serving every spectrum of the family unit, A Safe Haven has a different perspective. We know the ideal situation for any child is to have the love and support of parent(s) who are socially/financially stable, and involved in raising them. We do everything we can to rebuild the lives of single fathers with the added benefit of positively impacting the lives of their children and families as well. Financially and emotionally involved parents create necessary and important support systems for young children and at-risk youth. However, before anyone can reap the benefits of family reunification, a lot of work needs to happen. I like to compare this mindset to the airplane safety plan “Ensure your own oxygen mask is in place before helping your child.”

At A Safe Haven, we start with the basics. We assess parent’s social determinants such as: education, physical wellbeing, employment history, and employment potential. We begin the rebuilding process by addressing the root causes of their issues, through drug or alcohol counseling, education, financial literacy, and parenting education. We connect homeless parents to individualized services designed to ultimately reconnect them to employment, permanent housing, and family reunification. Through our partnerships with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), we are able to appropriately time the reunification of parents with children, and ensure the process is successful. Upon family reunification, we can accommodate living arrangements for the entire family and provide therapy and behavioral healthcare services for everyone.

An important thing to remember about the fathers and parents we serve is that, regardless of the way they came to A Safe Haven, they almost always experience tremendous guilt and pain. For fathers who have been unable to live up to promises, or who were in the grips of addiction and unable to support their families, feelings of inadequacy and guilt can be especially potent. Unfortunately, too many fathers in crisis find that fulfilling the typical role of a husband or father is not possible, and subsequently ‘give up’ or ‘check out.’ The resulting emotional cost leaves deep, unresolved wounds for everyone involved.

Once men and fathers arrive at A Safe Haven, they often express that they are eager to do better. I’ve heard time and again that they are seeking help specifically to be able to reconnect with their children. Most individuals at A Safe Haven must first work to build a strong foundation before family reunification can happen successfully. For some, this can happen quickly, but for others it may take months or even years. Each case is different, but it is crucial that reunification is not rushed to avoid a relapse or setback for the parent, or the child.

I would love to say that all reunions are happy and heartwarming experiences, however, the reality is that reconnecting in a meaningful way necessitates an incredible amount of strength, courage, and endurance. Reunion can be filled with rejection, hate, and accusations of past lies and disappointments. More importantly, fathers must be able to commit to renewed promises and honor their words with their actions. Trust becomes stronger with time, and the results of a solid, stable family are worth any pain or discomfort the process requires.

For over two decades, A Safe Haven’s model has successfully helped rebuild the lives of thousands of fathers in a way that has given them the strength and courage to reconnect with their children and families. I am incredibly grateful and proud to see men we serve to become positive, productive family members and role models to their own children. I’ve also realized that reunification can never occur too late. Whether the parent re-enters their child’s life when the child is 2, 12, 20, or 40, the forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation that occurs is truly a blessing.

I hear many amazing stories of fathers and alums who entered A Safe Haven’s programs when their children were small, and are now successful fathers of children who have gone on to do amazing things. It is always exciting to hear from our Alums about their children’s academic and professional achievements! Their successes are the type that many of us take for granted, such as making good grades or finding steady jobs. However, these success happen when children have a safe living environment, solid support system, and unconditional love and trust from their family at home.

As our society struggles with the issue of fatherless children, A Safe Haven understands that it is not always easy to inspire sympathy for fathers who have lost their way. Most of us find it easier to simply write them off. I urge you to consider the possibility of helping us support the fathers we serve as a way to reunite families and rebuild the lives of our children and youth. I can say with confidence that the fathers who receive help from A Safe Haven are working hard to get back on their feet and to do the right thing, not only for themselves, but for their children.

As we enter the fall season and begin the holiday planning season, let’s take a moment to be grateful for our own families, and thankful for our ability to support them.

God Bless You & Your Families,


Neli Vazquez Rowland
President and Co-Founder


Dear Friends,

This past week, A Safe Haven celebrated our children going back to school and the 15th anniversary of 9/11. America continues to be the greatest country in the world, and nothing unites us more than the desire to protect our children and our country. However, we continue to face serious and urgent problems that need to be dealt with in order to honor our future generations and fallen heroes.

Every day, we hear from media outlets about nationwide urban homelessness, crime, and violence. We look to government and business leaders for solutions, yet no one seems to fully provide the right answer. The clock is ticking as more and more people fall into crisis and the number of violent crimes and deaths continue to break records.

Last week, I watched our ‘little scholars’ residing at A Safe Haven with their homeless parents head off to school, properly dressed, fed, and ready to learn. It strengthens my resolve to work harder, knowing that over 20,000 children in Chicago Public Schools are homeless and do not have the opportunity to live in a stabilized, safe environment as their parents get back on their feet.

Although I often feel that we don’t have all the answers at A Safe Haven, we have stood the test of time and proven ourselves to be a viable, sustainable model for addressing the root causes of homelessness and poverty. We are lucky to have many generous supporters; unfortunately, we still experience a high demand for many of our services. More needs to be done, and we need more people, policy makers, and business leaders to join us so we can all do more.

I am so grateful to our recent supporters—Latino Leaders Magazine and HR BOOST—for the awards and platforms bestowed upon us. Thankfully, those awards and media opportunities have introduced us to many like-minded people who share our vision to change the system and transform lives.

When we started A Safe Haven, we fell in love with the success stories of those whose lives we have helped to change. Each and every life that moves on to independence continues to be our true crowning moment! Although we love the stories, we love our system more, because it truly does work for all different kinds of people in need, and is replicable across all spectrums. The donations and sponsorships we receive go directly to supporting our sustainable solution to homelessness and poverty.

When giving to a charitable cause, I urge you to consider the long-term effect of your giving. Is it to satisfy an immediate need, like hunger or cold weather? That is great! However, consider how awesome everyone would feel if your giving were connected to a much more robust system designed to solve the reason someone is cold and hungry in the first place. Your gift can truly transform the lives of thousands of people every year. Last year, we moved almost 5,500 people through our system and to their highest level of independence. More importantly, most of our past residents are no longer a burden to taxpayers, but are now taxpayers themselves.

We are also proud that 90% of our fundraising and funding goes directly to programs. This benchmark makes A Safe Haven one of the most efficiently operated non-profits in the nation. However, it also means we rely on word of mouth and do not spend any money on radio or television advertising, which is how most major non-profits raise awareness and support for their brand.  Your voice is so important to us because you are our best form of advertising!

We may not advertise to the public or to the homeless, but those who are serious about getting back on their feet find their way to A Safe Haven. At A Safe Haven, we always operate at 100% capacity in our homeless beds year around. Unfortunately, it is our policy not to keep a waiting list, but we do refer people to overnight shelters and ask them to keep trying until a bed becomes available.

I’m often asked what I like most about my job, and while it is undoubtedly fulfilling to assist countless individuals in achieving independence through our range of supportive services, one of the hidden truths is that there is endless room for innovation within social service delivery. I speak often about ASHF’s comprehensive “vertically integrated ecosystem.” We are trailblazers in our innovative approach to fund development, and have helped redefine the method in which our public and private partners measure outcomes and metrics.

Our Social Return on Investment (SROI) is even greater than numbers show. An investment in helping our city’s homeless achieve self-sufficiency through sustainable employment results in more tax dollars for our city and state, fewer individuals relying on state and federal aid, improved neighborhood security, and greater economic success for all. The cost of homelessness on society is high: from concrete costs such as paying for emergency room visits and incarceration, to intangible costs such as deteriorating mental health, the collapse of families, and the slow decline of quality of life in entire communities of affected populations. It is a problem that, left unresolved, will only gain traction and spread.

Poverty and homelessness are critical problems that affect all of us—directly or indirectly. I’d like to thank you all for your tireless support of our efforts to transform lives renovate the giving community to focus on comprehensive, sustainable solutions.


Neli Vazquez Rowland
President and Co-Founder

A Safe Haven Foundation is Proud to Host, Inspire, & Empower The Future Leaders of Tomorrow


I am proud to have been born into a family where all seven of us children were encouraged to work as soon as we turned 16 years old and were legally able to hold a job. My Dad worked in construction, and we kids loved to hop in the back of the pickup truck to help him clean up his job sites. Helping my dad on the weekends was something we just did, for as long as I can remember. My Dad was required to pay us for our services, of course! Today, I’m pretty sure OSHA and Child labor laws would have a problem with that concept, but I can attribute much of my success of not becoming a statistic from a poverty-stricken community to the work ethic that was engrained in me early in life.

I am grateful for that work ethic, which allowed me to work and study full time to pay my way through college. Coincidentally, my husband, Brian Rowland’s story is similar in that he too worked as a young teenager while paying his way through college. Supporting ourselves was the only thing we knew how to do. Today, we are happy to teach the value of a strong work ethic to ASHF’s youth through a team of like-minded top professionals, community partners, and leaders.

Similar to earning a driver’s license, I am sure we can all remember our first job and how awesome it felt to know we have the ability to acquire new skills and contribute our talents to a business or customer and get paid for our valuable time in exchange. That sense of pride is incredibly important, truly shaping the minds and the futures of our youth.

Like most responsible parents, my husband and I continue to do our best to instill the idea of working to pursue independence in our own children.  I believe the best gift we can give our children as parents and as adults is to teach the importance of working, setting goals, being resilient, and being pragmatic to ensure they can support themselves, as or until they can follow and monetize their passion(s).

Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for at-risk youth from many of the communities we serve exceeds 50-60%, without any options for employment to support themselves. As a society, we are unwittingly relinquishing these youth to resort to the influence of making a ‘fast buck’ on the streets in the ‘lucrative’ underground economy of drugs and crime.

Perhaps due to the rising economic and regulatory costs many businesses are facing as employers, or perhaps due to lack of knowledge, too many at-risk youth today do not have access to opportunities with employers who are willing or able to train or hire them over a summer, or throughout the year. This challenge denies our youth the valuable and life transforming experience of holding their first job.

In response to employment challenges faced by our youth, A Safe Haven hosts over 100 youth from the community every summer through the One Summer Chicago Plus (OSC+) program. With the support of our sponsors and funders, employers throughout the City of Chicago hire and introduce youth to jobs they couldn’t otherwise access. It is so exciting to witness these youth experience the empowering joy of learning to work, the power of collaboration and teamwork, how to manage their money, and the importance of higher education, vocational training or employment and career planning as a next step from our summer together.

We are proud to report that this year’s OSC+ program had 104 youth participants, 25 enrolled in college, 7 were offered full time employment, and 64 returned to school. Needless to say, it was a huge honor to host tomorrow’s leaders through our partnerships with Rotary ONE Job One program, Chicago’s OSC+ program, our college summer internship program and our employer partners.

On behalf of all ASHF staff and residents who benefited from their dedicated contributions, we wish to thank all of our partners, sponsors and all of this summer’s youth the best of luck in the coming school year!

SignatureNeli Vazquez Rowland
President and Co-Founder

A SAFE HAVEN Landscaping Services

Enhancing Urban Landscapes Since 1994



Summer is my favorite time of year in Chicago! As a gardener in my spare time at home, I cannot help but to admire the City in full bloom!

“I Believe that every gardener understands that to achieve a world of beauty there are no shortcuts, we must have a vision, plan, sow, plant seeds on good soil, water, weed, fertilize, provide sunshine, and never grow weary of extreme elements to realize our dream to enjoy and reap the harvest ‘in due season’ and for years to come.”

If you’ve ever noticed the beautiful landscaping in the medians on Michigan Avenue, in front of and the rooftop of City Hall, on Chicago’s River Walk, State St, or Upper Wacker Drive, then you’ve noticed the hard work and dedication of A Safe Haven’s Landscaping team. The fruits of their labor can be also be seen at several Starbucks Coffee shops, Stephanie’s Restaurants, Corporate Campuses, Hospitals, Luxury Hotels, condominiums and more. If you’re like me, the flowers in full bloom always take my breath away, but in reality it’s the stories behind the beautiful flower displays that are even more inspiring!

Not only does ASH Landscaping work to beautify an already stunning city, but we provide job training, employment opportunities, and provide a trained and experienced work force for employers looking for people to work in the trades.

A Safe Haven Landscaping is one of our many Social Business Enterprises, along with ASH Catering, Pest Control, Professional Snow Removal, and Civic Staffing Services.

We are pioneers in the emerging field of Social Business Enterprises, a business with the baked-in mission of doing well by doing good. After 20 years, it is exciting to serve as a benchmark and ‘proof of concept’ that has been featured on top stages at Ivy League business schools nationally and internationally, and in numerous social enterprise business books. We’ve also been honored to host delegations researching ‘best practices’ on poverty from governments from around the world, including the Minister of Justice from China! A Safe Haven understood early on the importance of applying business principles to achieve the social cause of ending poverty and homeless in Chicago. As a social business enterprise, we measure our success by not only our ability to grow and generate income, but also by our ability to employ those with barriers to transform lives and communities in what is today considered the “triple bottom line.”

At a time when our State’s finances are unstable at best, the revenue generated from ASHF’s social business enterprises provide valuable employment opportunities and revenue for ASHF to continue serving the homeless. Don’t get me wrong, the yearlong State budget crisis has not been easy, but ASHF’s social business enterprises have contributed significantly as sustainable solutions to budgetary issues often faced by non-profits.

Today, we are proud that almost a 1/3 of our revenues are produced by our Award Winning Social Business Enterprise(s). All of our revenues are spent and reinvested right back into our community. We are grateful that every year A Safe Haven Landscaping trains, employs and empowers almost 70 people, many of whom have been unemployed for years. The work ethic of a professional landscaper is an incredible skill for any worker to acquire and apply throughout their lives.

We take tremendous pride in our ability to provide the highest quality services, as our landscaping team is led by professionally educated, trained and expert landscaping professionals working together to achieve our mission to help and empower others, create beautiful award winning landscapes, and to make A Safe Haven a more sustainable model as our businesses continue to grow, thanks to our loyal and socially responsible customers.

Here at A Safe Haven, we witness success story after success story. By hiring A Safe Haven Landscaping you are not only beautifying your property, you are beautifying the world and the lives others, including the next generation!  Wow! I can only imagine how much more we could do with more like-minded landscaping customers!

Although it may seem like summer will last forever, as Chicagoans we all know that winter is just around the corner. Our Landscaping team is eager to hear from you now, to see how we can begin to beautify your real estate portfolios with beautiful fall, winter and holiday displays as well as provide you with reliable and professional snow removal services so feel free to reach out to us for any of your outdoor needs today! www.ASafeHaven.org/landscaping

Enjoy the rest of your summer everybody, and remember to take the time to smell the roses!