Surrey philanthropist John Volken knows that while money can’t buy many of the most important things in life, it definitely can be put to good use if you have a mind and heart to help others in need.
Volken has published an autobiography revealing a rags-to-riches life of adventures, challenges, hard work and faith that has resulted in new beginnings for many people who’ve sought help from his organization to shed their addictions.
Volken was born in Germany during the Second World War and spent part of his childhood in an orphanage in Soviet-occupied East Germany. At 18, he came to Canada, envisioning a new life as a lumberjack in the great white north. After landing in Halifax, he caught a train to Toronto not knowing anyone in Canada, not knowing English, with no job prospect and only $90 in his pocket.
But Volken was a quick study, with a strong work ethic and possessed of an entrepreneurial spirit that saw him rise from a dishwasher earning 25-cents an hour to building a furniture retail chain empire in North America that featured 150 stores and $200 million in annual sales.
His 184-page book, Walk with a Purpose: The John Volken Story, has an eye-catching subtitle: “From dishwasher to multi-millionaire then gave it all away…”
In 2004, Volken sold his furniture business and with its proceeds established a foundation that supports his John Volken Academy – which provides “effective, long-term, residential addiction treatment for men and women” – as well as supporting other charities.
Broadcaster and author David Berner, also founder of Canada’s first residential treatment centre for people addicted to drugs and alcohol, writes in the book’s back-cover copy that while most wealthy men “would have settled into a life of golf,” Volken did not, and that’s “exactly where the best and most exciting part of John Volken’s story begins…”
The Volken Academy has three locations – a rehab for men in Seattle, one for men and women in Phoenix, Arizona, and a third for men and women here in Surrey, at 6911 King George Blvd., where he also resides.
His philanthropic endeavours have, among other honours, resulted in a visit by the Dalai Lama in 2014, and an audience with Pope Francis in 2021. While some of the many highlights in his career, he writes in his book, “those experiences are just fleeting moments. Far more important is my relationship with my family, my relationship with my fellow man, and above all my relationship with God. These relationships are eternal.”
His autobiography, he notes, serves a practical purpose. People often ask him about himself.
“Finally I said well, maybe for posterity and for saving having to answer all the questions always, put it all in the book,” he told the Now-Leader. “It’s all in the book. I believe once you’re taking care of yourself or your family, then you should work for the common good of everybody.
“It’s not that thick but it tells you all my stories so when the next time I have to give a talk in front of people I say if you want to know more about it, more about me, just buy the book and then you know all about me.”
Walk with a Purpose: The John Volken Story can be purchased on Amazon with a list price of $22 Canadian/$16 U.S., with all proceeds from this book going to charity.