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A Safe Haven

Neli Vazquez Rowland shares her story to helping reduce homelessness.

Neli Vazquez RowlandNeli Vazquez Rowland is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in being a Rotarian.

As co-founder and president of A Safe Haven Foundation, I am honored to be named a White House Champion of Change. A Safe Haven Foundation is a non-profit social service agency and related for-profit social business enterprises dedicated to creating jobs and serving as employers to people with employment barriers. Since 1994, all of us at A Safe Haven Foundation have worked with a network of public and private partners to achieve a common mission: solving the issue of homelessness for people in need, one person at a time.

Since then, the vast majority of more than 44,000 people who were homeless have achieved self-sufficiency through the A Safe Haven holistic model. Consistent with the theme throughout our history to Aspire, Transform and Sustain, the individuals residing at A Safe Haven aspire for a stable lifestyle, transform through adult education courses and job skills training programs, and gain the confidence and skills to sustain employment and housing that allows them to support themselves and their families.

Over the last 19 years, at A Safe Haven we are proud to have designed a unique, vertically integrated "eco-system" that assists homeless individuals and families to pursue and achieve their God-given potential. The process is simple and rooted in empirical evidence. We assess and help people in need to address, alleviate and resolve the problems that led to financial crisis and homelessness, whether it is chronic or for the first time. Programming is assessment-driven and may include treatment, education, job training and placement, life skills training, financial literacy, and a myriad of other services structured to help each individual become self-sufficient. These changes also improve the lives of the families and break the cycle of generational poverty.

As we all know, the high cost of homelessness and poverty on our communities is manifested by high unemployment/underemployment, increase in crime, demand for drugs and illegal weapons, rampant violence, skyrocketing school truancy and dropout rates. We believe that nothing can replace the importance of empowering people with social and economic stability, which will help them break the cycle of poverty and provide them with the skills necessary to sustain long-term self-sufficiency. We cannot think of a better investment that offers a better return than investing in our most precious resource: people.

During this pivotal time in our nation's history when we are facing the many issues that result from homelessness and poverty, we are proud to be considered a national model and to have been noticed by leadership from other major cities across the country. For the first time at A Safe Haven, we are considering our options to expand the A Safe Haven footprint beyond Illinois.

We are blessed with outstanding support of proactive board members, partners, sponsors, donors, volunteers, professional staff, the business community and the community, at large. It is a privilege to be part of this life-giving organization.

Neli Vazquez Rowland is the co-founder and President of Safe Haven.