GIVING BACK M elissa Kehl, president of the Elgin, Illinois-based Rieke Office Interiors (ROI), loves to see people succeed, to overcome obstacles and become who they were meant to be. Neli Vazquez Rowland, president of the Chicago nonprofit A Safe Haven (ASH), gives people a hand up, helping to boost them out of homelessness and into a world that rewards them for their determination and hard work. The women are two sides of the same coin, brought together by the fight against COVID-19. Both women are strong, determined, and are making a difference in others’ lives their own way. Both women have faced and overcome personal challenges, and now they have teamed up to help keep people safe during a pandemic. It Started with a Phone Call When Kehl offered to donate 20 SafeSpace™ shields to A Safe Haven, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Rowland said, “Unfortunately when COVID-19 first hit, and government resources and medical supplies were distributed, what most people did not realize is that homeless organizations were not on the list to receive any protective medical supplies and equipment. Unfortunately, many homeless workers were exposed to the Corona virus and got infected.” “Thankfully, at A Safe Haven, we were able to prevent any outbreaks at all of our locations, while we kept everyone sheltered in place,” Rowland adds. “Melissa donated the SafeShields at the time we were starting to go back to providing more face-to-face services to our residents. There is no doubt that the SafeShields are living up to their name at A Safe Haven, keeping everyone on our team and those we serve safe from the pandemic. We are so grateful and truly appreciate her philanthropic creativity as she used her own business services to help the homeless in such a meaningful way.” Kehl said the nonprofit chose all the same type of shield so they could be used interchangeably for face-to-face meetings with the ability to pass papers through a slot at the bottom. “It was a great feeling seeing the excitement that the first two at the front desk brought to the employees.” Homelessness, Experienced Growing up, Kehl moved 33 times by the age of 18 due to family issues. She knows what it means to be hungry, to have the electricity turned off, to live out of a suitcase, to leave behind every friend she ever made, and, at 16, to be homeless. A teacher- turned-mentor put her on the path to success, and she ultimately graduated from college. She might brush it off a bit because she says her experience of sleeping on one couch after another and then living in her car for three weeks is not the same as living in a cardboard box on the streets of Chicago. Still, helping A Safe Haven resonated with her. Kehl commented, “I noticed that at A Safe Haven, it’s definitely not a place where you can go and hide. It’s a place where you go and you make something of yourself, for sure,” Kehl says. “You can see it. I like that they work with the whole person and not just their issue of being homeless.” Two Resourceful Women Leaders Team Up to Protect Others and Come Full Circle One of Them Overcame Homelessness, the Other Helps the Homeless Neli Vazquez Rowland (left) with Melissa Kehl (right). 62 enterprising Women