By Cecily Markland
Joshua Bartlett smiles broadly and tips the brim of his cowboy hat as he strolls confidently past the covered arena and toward the stables, pointing out the outbuilding he helped construct a few months ago and explaining his leadership role at Welcome Home Ranch.
It hasn’t always been that way. A year ago, Joshua was living in Virginia and nearing his 23rd birthday. “I had been kicked out of yet another rehab program, and I was really a mess. My life was totally out of control,” he says.
When he passed out at Thanksgiving dinner, his mother knew it was time to do something—again.
She had heard about Welcome Home Ranch. Located on Val Vista Dr. near Hunt Highway, Welcome Home Ranch is a working horse ranch, with a feed store, orchard, vegetable gardens and an arena used for various community events. It also is home to the John Volken Academy, a long-term residential drug and alcohol treatment center.
The Academy is named for its founder, a Canadian Latter-day Saint and now-millionaire who, at one time, was down and out himself.
“The academy is not like anything else out there,” Volken says. “Here, the students learn the life-skills needed for sobriety to work.”
“It’s really not an addiction recovery program,” says Don Stapley, a member of Cooley Park Ward, Mesa Citrus Heights Stake, and a Welcome Home Ranch board member. “It’s a therapeutic community that offers long-term healing, a fresh start, and a new, clean-living environment.”
Another board member, Doug Hubbard, of the Ahwatukee Groves Ward, Tempe West Stake, agrees, saying, “Many of the guys here have been in six or eight programs, and none worked. The thing is, they don’t have addiction problems, they have life behavior problems.”
At the ranch, formerly addicted men, ages 18 to 34, participate in a two-year-plus program, learning life behaviors, like how to stay on a schedule, how to make good decisions and how to work hard. They learn principles of leadership and are given opportunities to lead teams. In addition, an online program is available for those who need to resume their education and are ready to do so.
After one year, Joshua says, “I’m not ready to go out on my own yet, but I’m getting there. I never could have done this before. Now I have the necessary tools, and I’ve had a year to learn to deal with my emotions without turning to drugs. I will celebrate one year of sobriety in March and that is a big accomplishment.”
Joshua knows the second year is important. “The success rate for someone who has been sober a year is good, but it’s 10 times better after two years sober.”
Similar Volken Academy programs function in Vancouver, British Columbia, where students work in a warehouse-style grocery story and live in homes in the adjacent neighborhood, and in Seattle, Wash., students work in a furniture store called PriceCo and live in housing next door.
Volken’s accomplishments have been praised by grateful parents and lauded by students who say his program is not only life-changing, but life-saving, and, in Ocotber 2014, the Dalai Lama presented Volken with a Humanitarian Award, “in recognition of his compassion and contribution to creating social change by effectively changing lives.”
“He vowed several years ago to give everything back. He works 24/7 at these three programs and takes nothing for himself,” Stapley says.
Volken says his “payment” is to see others succeed. “It’s awesome when you see the change that comes in them. I thank Heavenly Father every morning and every night for the privilege of being involved.”
For more information, visit welcomehomeranch.com, volken.org or call 855-592-3001.