Neli is the Co-Founder & President of A Safe Haven Foundation. A Safe Haven is a world class, unique, vertically integrated ‘eco- system’ non for profit that is successfully rebuilding lives from poverty and homelessness. A Safe Haven’s model is a public/private collaboration that assesses and addresses the root causes of poverty and homelessness with an individualized, integrated, comprehensive approach to social and economic crisis. A Safe Haven offers a holistic, sustainable, evidence-based approach including transitional and supportive housing, addiction treatment, education, job training/placement. A Safe Haven also believes in renewing communities by investing in dozens of distressed, abandoned and repurposes properties in high risk communities and creates award winning beautiful places and safe environments for residents to live and work to rebuild their lives. Due to many employment and housing barriers A Safe Haven alumni faced early on, A Safe Haven also partners with for profit entities and Vazquez-Rowland continues to personally invest along with other investors in businesses that create jobs to provide employment and permanent housing through social business enterprises and affordable housing development. Since 1994, the collective impact of the public/private partnership efforts has resulted in A Safe Haven helping the vast majority of over 44,000 people, including families, veterans, and today over 4,000 people each year, break the cycle of poverty and achieve financial independence with their pride, purpose and dreams restored. A Safe Haven Foundation’s model empowers individuals to transform their own lives and contribute to society.
Her goal is to inspire and influence a ‘paradigm shift’ on how our Nation addresses the issues of poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction with protocols that offer an effective, efficient delivery system by connecting services and leveraging investment resources of public and private entities that have a shared responsibility and common goal of making a measurable and positive social impact to society. A Safe
Haven delivery system is designed to help people in crisis achieve sustainable self-sufficiency and to achieve the ‘double bottom line’ of saving money and more importantly saving lives long-term.
Today the A Safe Haven Model has a network of over 28 locations and employs over 200 people throughout the Chicagoland area in Illinois and is successfully helping thousands of people each year transition back to self-sufficiency. The A Safe Haven model is considered innovative and yet anchored in over 19 years of experience and results; it is also scalable and repeatable and through the internal professional development, training and
educational programs in place, the A Safe Haven management team can replicate the model in other high need communities throughout the Country.
Neli is a frequent expert speaker, keynote speaker and panelist for many government, academic and business forums. Her story and the A Safe Haven model is the subject of dozens international tours by top government delegations interested in the topic(s) from across the Country and around the World including Japan, China, Holland and others. She is also a frequent guest on many of the local, national and international media stories featuring the topics of sustainable solutions for poverty, homelessness, veterans and reentry populations. She is also considered a pioneer in the field of social business enterprise and also speaks as an expert on the topic.
Neli is a first generation American and grew up in an ‘at risk’ community called ‘Little Village’ a quaint, but densely populated Latino enclave, commonly known for the high rate of crime, due to drugs and gangs and for serving as the home of the largest County prison in the Country known as Cook County prison.
She was the first in her family of seven to graduate from college. She is a former investment banker and for 13 years she worked for some of the leading investment banking firms in the Country.
Inspired by a personal experience of alcoholism in their family and in her native community and frustrated by the lack of efficiencies and high fragmentation of services, that resulted in exorbitant costs to society and lost lives, it was during her tenure as an investment banker that she and her husband, Brian Rowland co-founded, A Safe Haven as a way to give back. Their goal was to connect the dots for services and to achieve an integrated, comprehensive delivery system for others in crisis to help streamline the process for them. After five years of investing their personal resources to fund a pilot of A Safe Haven that helped thousands of people in need, the mission of rebuilding lives from crisis became her and her husband’s life’s passion. And as a result of a study published in the American Journal of Public Health by Northwestern in 1999, which publicized that A Safe Haven’s approach had a superior efficacy rate, they took the ‘leap of faith’ to apply their business knowledge and partner with government and other stakeholders and to commit their personal lives to help the homeless become self-sufficient.
She is graduate of Loyola University’s School of Business and of the Minority Executive Management program at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
She is an avid runner, triathlete, marathoner and lives with her husband and A Safe Haven co-founder, Brian, and their two wonderful sons, Devin and Dylan.
- The White House – “Champion of Change”
- American Red Cross – “Community Impact Award”
- Make It Better Magazine – “Most Inspiring Mission”
- NYC Legal Momentum -“Entrepreneur of the Year”
- Chicago Magazine -“Chicagoan of the Year”
- Chicago United -“Leader of Color”
- Chicago Latino Network -“Entrepreneur of the Year”
- Chicago Association of Realtors -“Good Neighbor Award”
- National Environmental Hall of Fame -“Social Sustainability Award”
- AETNA – “Latina Entrepreneur of the Year”
- National Social Business Enterprise Alliance – “Best Marriage of Money & Mission”
- Publicity Club of Chicago – Two Time Winner of “Silver Trumpet Award” –
- Issues Management