The man who set up an ambitious alcohol and drug recovery home in Surrey has been honoured with the Dalai Lama’s Humanitarian Award.
For the first time ever, the Dalai Lama (below) recognized the contributions by an individual who, through his devotion to philanthropy and humanitarian causes worldwide, has made exceptional positive social change.
John Volken arrived in Surrey about 10 years ago, with plans to use the fortune from his furniture empire to build a large recovery facility for those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
It was the latest in a long journey for Volken, who arrived in Canada from East Germany when he was 18 with$20 in his pocket.
In 1960, the soft-spoken Mormon said he began working in fast food restaurants because “he had to eat.”
Later as a salesman, he opened a United Furniture Warehouse in Vancouver offering no-frills stock at low prices. A second store was opened in Surrey a few years later.
By 2001, Volken had opened 150 stores throughout Canada and the U.S. and was seeing annual revenues of $200 million.
Two years later, after a marital separation, Volken decided to sell off his holdings and find something more meaningful to do with his life.
He considered a homeless shelter, but after speaking with service providers in Vancouver, he shifted his focus to helping people with addictions.
He put $130 million in assets into a foundation to pay for his dream, a recovery house that he calls Welcome Home.
Volken recently built a 72-unit facility in Newton at 6925 King George Blvd. The $20-million compound has a host of necessary amenities, including classrooms, an on-site dentist and gymnasium, along with a store where recovering addicts work. Clients are expected to stay for an average of four years. Those who can afford it pay $65 a day, while the less-affluent stay for free.
The foundation makes about $5 million annually in lease income from Volken’s properties, which covers the costs.
Volken also sold his $5.5-million West Vancouver mansion and lives in the Surrey treatment centre.
He’s done all this to try and help an addicted community known to lie, manipulate, steal and abuse the people trying to help them.
It would be a lot easier, Volken acknowledges, to put all of the money towards a cause like treating AIDS in Africa.
But that’s just money, he says. He wanted to get involved.
He also runs a 20-bed facility in Seattle and has plans to open similar facilities in Alberta and Ontario.
Volken was invited to a special ceremony at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver on Tuesday morning to receive the humanitarian award from the Dalai Lama.
It was the second stop in Vancouver for the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual icon of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama was at John Oliver High School on Tuesday morning, where he fielded questions from some of the teens at the school.
Matthew Morin grew up in a chaotic home and as he developed, he had a hard time connecting with kids in school. He asked the Dalai Lama if it was important to have a strong connection with a mother in order to develop compassion.
“Oh yes, no question,” the Dalai Lama said, as he held Morin’s hand. “I think most important for a compassionate mind, is our mother’s compassion.”
He told Morin that’s where he got his compassionate mind.
Sage Broomfield asked, “What is the importance of patience and how can one practise patience?”
The Dalai Lama said when adversity arrives, it’s important to keep in mind that common understanding with others is of mutual benefit.
“So, patience is very important,” the Dalai Lama said. He said it’s crucial to look for patience that’s grounded in a deeper understanding.
Jaspreet Singh Minhas said as a student of Sikhism he always works to help his friends, family, fellow students and teachers. He tries to practise compassion, but wondered as a Grade 12 student, how can he bring his compassion out into the larger world when he graduates?
The Dalai Lama said compassion isn’t wedded to any one faith. The fact that Minhas practises compassion makes him a compassionate man.
After the school visit, the Dalai Lama attended the presentation of Volken’s humanitarian award and then participated in other events through through Oct. 23.