Small Business Week: A Safe Haven for Enterprise

“Small businesses are the anchors of our Main Streets…part of the promise of America – the idea that if you’ve got a dream and you’re willing to work hard, you can succeed…It’s this promise that has drawn millions to our shores and made our economy the envy of the world.” –President Barack Obama

During Small Business Week, we are highlighting a few examples of small businesses working in prevention, treatment or recovery. Today’s post highlights A Safe Haven, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization that helps people overcome addiction and transition into sober, productive lives.

For more information about Small Business Week, please visit, and join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #sbw2012.



Small businesses are frequently, and rightly, recognized as engines of economic prosperity capable of transforming communities. A Safe Haven is a Chicago-based, not-for-profit organization serving more than 4,000 individuals annually, providing housing, substance use and mental health disorder treatment, training, employment readiness and placement services, educational and life-skills training. Since its establishment in 1994, Safe Haven has developed seven independently incorporated for-profit social business enterprises helping to make that dream a reality for many for whom it might otherwise have been unimaginable.

These businesses are managed and staffed by individuals from A Safe Haven’s 16 sites Chicago-area sites, and are incorporated as subsidiaries of the A Safe Haven Foundation.  They provide living-wage employment opportunities for homeless men and women, veterans, and individuals returning to the community from incarceration. Perhaps even more importantly, the enterprises—which include a pest control business, a landscaping business, culinary arts/catering operations, property management services, housekeeping services, customer service and sales professional services,  and a cosmetic nail care line—provide their employees with an opportunity to develop critical work skills, including business management and leadership.

Neli Vazquez-Rowland, who co-founded A Safe Haven with her husband Brian Rowland and who serves as President of A Safe Haven Foundation, sums it up: “We want to show the world that we help people overcome crisis and re-enter the employment market—these individuals are now supporting themselves, taking care of their families, paying taxes, and contributing to their communities. There’s a huge return on investment for helping people in crisis get back on their own two feet.”  Neli and Brian, who both worked in the financial services industry before founding A Safe Haven, make return on investment a primary focus. Their top organizational priority is ensuring that taxpayers, corporate funders, and those they serve achieve a solid return on investment.

Bianca, a 53-year-old A Safe Haven resident, is a perfect example of the organization’s success in combining social service delivery with business development. She started using heroin at age 17, and by the time she found her way to A Safe Haven, she had been arrested more than 120 times and imprisoned seven times.  Through her work with A Safe Haven, Bianca has been able to address her substance use problem, which was at the root of her criminal behavior. That has allowed her to find a living-wage job in one of the A Safe Haven social business enterprises.  She is now a tax-paying member of her community, has reunited with her children and family, and serves as a volunteer helping others overcome addiction. A video of her inspirational story is below:

A Safe Haven provides a solid return on investment for taxpayers, corporate funders, and the individuals, families, and communities it serves, and we’re proud to highlight it as part of National Small Business Week.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

by Peter Gaumond, Recovery Branch Chief