A CKNW Podcast Feature: Curing Addiction at The John Volken Academy

In the midst of a drug addiction and overdose crisis in British Columbia, one former millionaire donated all of his money to help young people with addiction. His program, the John Volken Academy, is not just a place for addicts to get clean – it’s saving lives at an impressive rate.

For many, the story starts the same.

One student says, “I started with drinking… it progressed from there.” This progression has heart-breaking effects: “I was living in squalor. I started butchering the relationship with my parents. I started selling everything I had. I looked around my room, it was empty.”

For some students, their addiction wasn’t just putting their relationships at risk, it was putting their own lives at risk. Cameron remembers, “I had two grand mal seizures… I went into a coma… it was my own personal hell.” He continued, ”I didn’t have much left in me, and if i’m honest, I was a few steps away from dying”.

So, why is it that the John Volken Academy is succeeding where so many other rehabilitation centres are failing?

According to JVA’s Director, Sean Gisler, in the last two years, all of the people who have graduated are clean. This shockingly impressive success rate contrasts that of 60 or 90 day rehab centres, of which only 18% to 21% of addicts remain sober after 5 years.

What sets the John Volken Academy apart is the fact that it’s a 2 year in-patient program, where addicts become “students” and work towards understanding the root of their addiction, gaining education, and life-skills.

Another key to success? The Therapeutic Community model.

JVA’s different approach to treatment is proving to be a game changer. The academy uses a Therapeutic Community Model, where students work together in “families” for support and accountability in the two-year program. This Therapeutic Community structure encourages older students in the program to mentor the newer students, providing an opportunity for leadership.

It’s not hard to see the profound impact that John Volken Academy has had on its students. Many want to either help addicts get clean, or even work in therapeutic communities as support workers. As Cameron said,

“I’m going to Australia to work as a support worker at a therapeutic community there. [John Volken Academy has] been a phoenix type situation….”.

An Accessible Solution To Addiction

For each student, it costs John Volken Academy around $8,000 a month, or $192,000/per student, over two years.

But thanks to government grants, private funding, donations from the John Volken Foundation, and supporting businesses, treatment at JVA is essentially free. There’s just a one-time $5,000 administrative intake fee – that’s only 1.3% of the total cost of the two-year program.

The Man Behind The Magic

Who is the man behind John Volken Academy?

Originally from Germany, John Volken lost his father in World War II and came to Canada with his mother and brother. When his mother fell ill, he and his brother were sent to live in an orphanage. Later, he would go on to sell used furniture, and ultimately create a large furniture chain with over 150 locations in Canada: United Furniture Warehouse.

After receiving notoriety as an entrepreneur, John Volken wanted to do only one thing: help those in need. He saw the massive problem of addiction and set out to create a program that addresses trauma and root causes. After engaging with these root causes, participants are given the tools and training needed to stay sober.

“Every young man and woman [has] a song to sing. They know they have a song to sing. But they can’t sing it as an addict.” – John Volken

John Volken Academy’s Therapeutic Community model, two-year length of commitment, and the focus on developing applicable life-skills allows students to truly recover.

Dylan, another recent graduate said of his time at JVA, “It’s given me the time to find an appreciation for my life. To figure out why I use drugs. I’ve developed a lot of love for myself, which is something I never had for myself.”

Listen to CKNW’s full podcast on the John Volken Academy here.