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Sent on Mormon-News: 03May01

By Mark Wright

LDS Millionaire Launches Ambitious Effort to Help Homeless

COQUITLAM, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA -- When it comes to helping the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised in the world today, it sometimes seems that too many people "talk the talk" but don't ever "walk the walk." John Volken, owner of United Furniture Warehouse in Canada, a furniture company with $200 million in annual sales, hopes to demonstrate that one person can make a difference.

Volken, an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believes in doing more than going to church on Sundays. He is about to embark on a mission to do no less than change the lives of hundreds or thousands of homeless and abused young people living throughout North America. An audacious and ambitious undertaking by any measure, Volken may be one of the few people who actually have the vision, the track record, and the resources to succeed.

Originally born in Germany, Volken has created a furniture empire from nothing. At the age of 18, he arrived in Canada, penniless and speaking German and Russian but no English. The quintessential self-made man, Volken is now a multi-millionaire, building his fortune largely on the strength of his personal ambition and incredible drive. Now the owner of the company, he directed United's growth from its humble beginnings as a used-furniture store into a chain of 140 outlets that now sweeps across the country.

Mr. Volken's successful efforts in building a business has fostered his new vision; a vision of building and operating a chain of long-term residences across the continent for homeless people from the ages of 18 to 24. Volken wants to offer young people a chance to improve their lot in life and become successful. He expects those who stay at his new shelters to enroll in on-site educational and job-training programs. Volken has personally committed $20-million to help launch the project. He's also earmarked 2 per cent of annual sales from United Furniture Warehouse profits for the next three years to the first residence, to be built in Vancouver . He's also pledged $6-million from a private charitable foundation that he founded, and hopes to raise an additional $5-million from other charitable sources.

These new facilities, known as "Welcome Home," will provide food, shelter, training, and safe harbor for those who are willing to try and change their lives. Mr. Volken said young people who reside in the new facilities will have to agree to abstain from drugs, alcohol, and violent behavior. Plans for the facilities include an emergency shelter, dormitories for young people to stay two years or more, a gym and areas for learning. While religious instruction will be available, no one will have to subscribe to any specific religious beliefs to be accepted into the program.

Volken is part of a new and growing movement in social activism. More and more, successful businessmen and women are turning their time and energies to social causes. Using the experience that they have gained in the business world, they are tackling the problems of society at the street level. While they may have been successful in private enterprise, many traditional social service veterans are skeptical of the new breed. For example, community activist Bud Osborn, upon hearing of Volken's plans, commented, "Many people have come forward over the years, willing to help out, but nothing ever seems to materialize."

Win or lose, we can only hope that Volken and others like him continue to try because, no matter how you look at it, the world needs all the help it can get.


Furniture baron to make room for poor
Toronto Canada Globe and Mail 30Apr01 B2
By Robert Matas
Entrepreneur plans chain of residences to house and train homeless young people


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