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Wealthy businessman gives back by helping addicts
A German-Canadian businessman is giving back to addicts through his treatment facility, the John Volken Academy. - photo by Carole Mikita
GILBERT, Ariz. Sometimes it takes the right kind of help and a generous donation to save people from self-destruction.

John Volken, a German-Canadian businessman, is giving away a considerable fortune to live and work with young people, helping them overcome addictions with a unique program.

Work begins early for 25 young men at the Welcome Home Ranch outside Phoenix. Responsibilities include heavy lifting and making sales for another 25 at the PriceCo outside Seattle. And whether it's stocking shelves, replacing produce or baking bread, the demands of working at PricePro outside Vancouver, British Columbia, are constant for more than 40 young men and women.

They are all students of the John Volken Academy. The treatment facility has three locations, all with one purpose: to help young people fight their addictions to drugs and alcohol. One man, offering guidance, correction and embrace, has given his multimillion-dollar fortune to pay for their recovery.

In October 2014, the Dalai Lama gave Volken the Humanitarian Award for compassion and contributions toward creating social change. Volken knows his students because he lives with them.

"They hate what they've done. They hate to change. They hate what they're doing, Volken said. There's not much love or anything. So, they come here and they develop trust."

What sets this program apart is that Volken and his wife, Chawna, and their staff ask the young people, ages 18 to 34, to make a two-year commitment toward not just sobriety, but changing their lives completely.

"I weighed 200 pounds and I was lazy and I was mean and I was upset all the time. And now Im not that person," said Anna from Los Angeles. Now I have so much hope. And I have so much drive and, like we say in our promise, I am achieving my full potential.

In 10 months, Anna has become an enthusiastic saleswoman in the PricePro store and has risen to a leadership position.

Jordan has spent 13 months in the program learning how to work a ranch while learning about himself.

"I didn't see myself living another year," he said.

In this mostly student-run program, he aims to become as his mentors are.

Without the examples that Ive had, there's no way that I would be here right now, he said. So I, in turn, want to be able to give that to somebody else who's looking."

The students live together, they eat together and before they bless their dinner every night, they make a promise together. And, in turn, Volken promises to provide training, educational and job opportunities so that they can envision a future free of addiction.

Born and raised in East Germany, Volken immigrated to Canada as a young man and built the multimillion-dollar company, United Furniture Warehouse.

"I really believe there's a God in heaven and he said to me, 'John, I make you rich, but I watch what you do with the money.

"I owe him my life, I really do. He didn't have to put his money towards this, said Reece from Seattle. He's helped me a lot along the way, and he's a very inspiring man. I think the world of him."

And the truly beautiful part of this is that Volken thinks the world of his students.

"No matter how bad they were, I love them because they say, 'I want to change my life and I need help.' And they deserve the respect and the love," he said.