life exemplifies a success story, a rags-to-riches transformation that typifies the North American dream.John was born in December 1941 in Potsdam, a city that became part of communist East Germany. His father, a medical doctor, died near the end of the Second World War when John was only three years old. Due to their extremely limited finances, John’s mother was forced to put young John and his two brothers in an orphanage for a short-time.
John Volken immigrated to Canada in 1960, at the age of 18, with only a small amount of pocket-money. He took odd jobs while learning English, and then sought a career in sales. In 1981, he opened a small retail operation selling used furniture and other used goods, which he named United Buy & Sell Service. After a short time he began exclusively selling new furniture, and after opening a few more outlets he changed the name to United Furniture Warehouse.
Over the next 20 years, John expanded United Furniture Warehouse to having more than 150 stores and annual sales of more than $200,000,000. “I’ve never been motivated by money,” says John. “I just wanted to build something special.” For his accomplishments John received many awards, including being named “Entrepreneur of the Year” for Canada’s Pacific Region.
Having achieved his business goals, John remembered his time in the orphanage and his dream to help people in need. In 1998 he began searching for areas of social neglect where he could make a lasting difference. He met with many advocates of the disenfranchised community to seek direction. Many of those he met voiced the need for long-term, residential treatment and life-skills training for those struggling with alcohol and drug addictions. John then visited and studied numerous facilities in the United States and Europe that provided such services.
By 2001, John had begun shifting his time and energy away from his business to focus more on his new career as a social entrepreneur. He formed the John Volken Foundation and began transferring virtually all of his assets to it. In 2004 John sold United Furniture Warehouse and began devoting his efforts on a full time basis to the Foundation’s charitable endeavors. John has brought to his new career the same spirit that brought success to his business endeavors.
The purpose of the John Volken Foundation is to provide people in need with the opportunity to help themselves become successful, contributing members of society.
John’s first step to achieve the Foundation’s purpose was to establish WelcomeHome, a long-term residential drug and alcohol treatment facility that not only helps its members overcome their addictions, but also teaches them many important, necessary, and valuable life-skills, so that they develop mentally, physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Recently, the Foundation’s Board of Director’s, in honor of its founder, changed the name of the treatment facilities to the John Volken Academy. There are currently 3 John Volken Academies, in Vancouver, Phoenix, and Seattle. These facilities not only offer one of the most effective treatment programs, but also one of the most affordable. Other than a relatively small one-time admittance fee, the entire costs of the program, as well as all members’ basic living costs while in the program, are paid for by John’s Foundation.
John also continued to look for other ways to help those in need. In particular he traveled to Africa to determine how he could help that continent’s destitute children. After seeing firsthand the terrible plight of so many orphans, John returned home and formed Lift the Children, a registered charitable organization funded extensively by his Foundation. Lift the Children helps the poorest of the poor in Africa in their struggle not only to survive, but also to become self-sufficient.
To those who know John, it is no surprise that he continues to work 60-hour plus weeks, maintaining the same hands-on management style that drove his business success. He is joined and very much supported in these efforts by his wife, Chawna, who is a constant source of strength in his efforts to serve the disadvantaged, often traveling with him on grueling missions to Africa.
John is often asked about his charitable work. His answer is simple “Helping others has brought me tremendous joy and satisfaction. I believe that once we have provided for our families, we should then work for the good of all; whether it be the arts, amateur sports, public office … whatever you may choose. There are so many opportunities to make this a better world. Personally, I am motivated by Matthew, chapter 25, verse 40: In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”