AFP Aware: Providing A Safe Haven

  • By Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 9/10/2018


One of the most fulfilling and popular events at AFP’s annual conference is the AFP Aware community service project, sponsored by BBVA Compass. Every year, AFP Aware gives back to the region where the conference is taking place by partnering with a local nonprofit organization.

AFP Aware is centered on three guiding principles: workplace, community and environment. The community service project will provide AFP 2018 attendees with an opportunity for personal growth, while making meaningful connections with other members.  

“This year marks our ninth consecutive year of sponsoring AFP Aware,” said Karen Grekstas, Executive Director of Treasury Management Solutions and Services for BBVA Compass. “We are very proud of the commitment we’ve been able to make to this special event.”   
AFP Aware’s guiding principles align with BBVA Group and BBVA Compass’ Corporate Responsibility principles. “We believe in creating opportunities for everyone,” Grekstas added. “Everyone deserves a bright future and giving back to the community does help to make a brighter future for all, one kind act at a time.” She invites attendees to bank it forward and join this year's AFP Community Aware events.  


This year, AFP Aware is partnering with A Safe Haven Foundation (ASHF), which provides shelter and services to Chicago-area residents who are struggling with homelessness, addiction, abuse and other issues. The nearly 25-year-old nonprofit operates a network of over 36 multifamily locations for permanent and senior affordable housing, as well as a temporary housing program that includes meals, case management, drug and alcohol treatment, healthcare, and job training and placement.

ASHF is the brainchild of Neli Vazquez Rowland and her husband Brian Rowland. Following Brian’s struggle with alcohol addiction, the couple decided to use their funds to open a small recovery home for individuals facing similar issues, and the organization has been growing ever since. In FY2017, ASHF served over 5,000 individuals.

“Since 1994, A Safe Haven has been on the tip of the spear and on the front lines of identifying the trends and in addressing and solving the complex issues and root causes of poverty, drug and alcohol and homelessness epidemics that we have seen grow by leaps and bounds over the last two decades,” Vazquez Rowland said. “Since then, at A Safe Haven, we are humbled to be considered ‘disruptive’ as we lead the way to becoming one of the most robust, comprehensive and integrated and multi-disciplinary models in the country and a frequently recognized trailblazer and pioneer for converging the fields of social and economic development strategies. Today, we serve over 5,000 people a year, including mothers with children, youth, nonviolent ex-offenders and military veterans.” 

ASHF offers classes for GED test preparation, resume building, relapse prevention, financial and computer literacy, health, and nutrition. The organization also has apprenticeships in welding, landscaping and culinary arts, as well as vocational training in housekeeping, security and customer service.

“They become certified in the field, and we have access to different partners that hire directly from us, or we provide them with employment opportunities within our organization to get them the work history they need to be more employable to the outside world,” said Angela Lathen, executive assistant to the president at ASHF.

Additionally, ASHF is the only homeless shelter in Illinois that has a Veteran’s Resource Center onsite. “We partner with the VRC to provide our veterans with onsite access to all the services they would get through the VA,” Lathen said. “So it’s really a one-stop shop for all of our clients; all of our services are in one building.”

The offsite AFP Aware project will take place at ASHF’s main building, which houses 400 of its clients.  Volunteers will assist in painting hallways throughout the facility, as well as minor kitchen services, such as food prep, serving and clean up.

For the onsite project, volunteers will assemble 900 hygiene kits that will be given to homeless individuals throughout the greater Chicago area. The kits include soap, shampoo, deodorant, razors and other toiletries. Prior to creating the kits, volunteers will also be writing letters to ASHF clients to offer them some words of hope and inspiration.

“We look forward to sharing our vision, mission and unique model with our guests as they come to work side by side with us to help amplify our individual and collective efforts on behalf of those we serve,” Vazquez Rowland said. “Thanks again to AFP Aware for partnering with us to take the time to do well by doing good!”


As always, AFP Aware will also feature PaintFest, sponsored by BBVA Compass. Stop on by booth 1041 in the exhibit hall to paint pre-drawn murals provided by the Foundation for Hospital Art. The murals will be donated to children’s hospitals across the country. The foundation’s mission is to give comfort and hope to hospital patients, families and staff by providing them with murals at no cost.


AFP Aware also aims to be environmentally conscious, partnering with vendors that provide eco-friendly services. This year’s exclusive caterer at AFP 2018 is SAVOR… Chicago, which serves organic and locally sourced food. The caterer has created a 2.5-acre rooftop garden at the West Building of the McCormick Place convention center where seasonal harvests such as beets, kale and carrots are grown.


Last but not least, AFP 2018 will also feature the Wellness Zone, as part of an effort to help attendees maintain their work-life balance. Stop by booth 1247 in the exhibit hall for some tips on eating healthy with a busy schedule, relieving stress in the workplace and boosting your energy throughout the workday.

For more information and to register for one of the community service events, go here.

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