‘Joy and Privilege of a Lifetime’: A Safe Haven Foundation President Neli Vazquez Rowland Steps Down After 28 Years

On Oct. 12, A Safe Haven Foundation (ASHF) announced the resignation of their co-founder and president, Neil Vazquez Rowland. In a letter of resignation, Rowland shared plans to spend more time with her family, pursue her impactful creative endeavors and focus on her real estate investments. She now becomes Chairman Emeritus while Mark Mule, former ASHF COO, has been named the new president by the Board of Directors.

And influential force and passionate advocate for the homeless, Rowland “looks forward to continuing to do my part to support A Safe Haven leadership and serving as a resource and an ambassador for the vision and mission in any way that I can in the future.”

A Make It Better Foundation 2012 Philanthropy Award winner, ASHF was founded by Rowland and her husband Brian in 1994 to address and heal the root causes of the growing opioid and homeless epidemics. They developed a multi-award-winning, vertically integrated, social and economic development model that rebuilds the lives of people impacted by poverty, behavioral healthcare, substance abuse, prison reentry, and homelessness with a holistic, individualized, case management approach. 

Neli and Brian Rowland

“When we started ASH, we were at the tip of the opioid epidemic. ASH is as relevant today as it was when we began,” Rowland previously told Better. “We both had busy financial careers when our family decided it was time to give back. Based on our personal experience with overcoming alcoholism and addiction in our family, we knew first-hand how few resources were available to anyone who was battling this illness.”

Under Rowland’s leadership, ASHF has helped nearly 140,000 people of all backgrounds find a path to a new beginning. Along the way she has earned several awards and accolades in recognition of her unique life-altering work, including “The Champion of Change” by the White House, “Humanitarian of the Year” by Illinois Secretary of State and “Chicagoan of the Year” by Chicago Magazine.

Make It Better Media Group’s Founder and Chief Visionary Officer, Susan B. Noyes, stated that “A Safe Haven’s win of a Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award and their subsequent success showed us that our selection process and awards program work well. Theirs is truly is a model worthy of replication and it has been an honor for our company and my own family to support the organization ever since.”

In 2021, Rowland published a book revealing the firsthand accounts of former residents titled Healing: Real Stories Told by People Who Have Overcome the Homeless and Opioid Epidemics. 100% of the proceeds of the book went to ASHF. An Elegant Solution, her memoir about building ASHF, is coming soon.

An avid runner, Rowland is a 2-time marathon finisher and multiple triathlete finisher. She has produced Chicago’s oldest, largest and now first ever Global Virtual Run/Walk to End Homelessness. The 2021 event, which attracted sponsors and participants from 32 states and 10 countries, raised over $350,000.

Rowland at the 2022 Chicago Marathon. Courtesy of A Safe Haven Foundation.

One of her last and final acts as president was to run the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 8, her third and final on the ASHF Marathon Team. In an email to ASHF supporters, Rowland wrote, “Running is where I do my best thinking and get my best ideas. The marathon gave me a lot of time to reflect on my journey of starting and building A Safe Haven. Much like running a marathon, we choose to run it, even though, we know it is a long, grueling and painful road, with lots of headwinds, but so worth it and exhilarating when you cross the finish line and accomplish your dream. For me, running my 3rd marathon was the perfect way to cap off my 28 year run at helping raise awareness, bring support and build an amazing team and powerful solution for ending homelessness.”

“My greatest hope for all of us, is that we someday prevent and eradicate homelessness everywhere.”


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How to Help:

Donate today to help ASHF continue its critical outreach, which includes their award-winning Covid-19 Medical Respite Center, which helps positive adults and families with children isolate and heal in a safe space. For more information about A Safe Haven, visit A Safe Haven or call 773- 435-8300.


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