A Family Affair

Ken and Bernice Baher have made philanthropy a family tradition

In their early years together, Ken and Bernice Baher lived a story that is all too familiar to many Albertans. At 17, after finishing high school, Ken left home in search of a better life for himself and his future family. For years, he worked as a logger, miner, and oilpatch worker as he looked for a career that would provide a comfortable life for his family. After meeting Bernice, Ken was inspired to return to school to earn an engineering degree, laying a foundation that would provide financial security for his family.

“We both come from very humble backgrounds, but we were fortunate, and were able to be quite successful in our lives,” says Ken.

As time passed, the couple’s hard work paid off. More than a decade after getting married, the couple formed their own private corporation, which is still active today. Now, with two grown children raising families of their own, the Bahers are modest but proud of the legacy they started all those years ago.

“We had some times in our journey where we were the recipients of help,” says Ken, “And we feel that it’s important to pass that back. It’s important to help those who are helping themselves.”

This concept played a major role in the couple’s discussions as they began to explore the future of their legacy. Their children had achieved their own financial independence, so Bernice and Ken began looking for ways to support others in the community.

“We want to help people become good, fruitful, productive citizens,” says Ken. “And the goal is that they’ll pass those traits and that support along to their descendants. Helping people like this creates a snowball effect.”

After researching various options for their legacy project, the Bahers decided to start an endowment fund, and contacted Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF). In 2013, they worked with Kathy Hawkesworth, director of donor services at ECF, to establish the Baher Family Fund. The donor-advised fund allows them to support a number of different community initiatives at once.

“We love the flexibility of the fund and the resources that ECF provides us to decide which organizations to support,” says Ken. “The biggest challenge we face is that there are so many needs out there that trying to prioritize them is so hard.”

Each year, the couple gathers input from their children and grandchildren to determine which local organizations to support. Although they continue to support some of the same charities each year, they also select new ones with help from ECF. This year, the family’s chosen charities include: YONA Sistema with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, a musical education program designed to promote positive change for youth in Northern Alberta; Youth Empowerment Support Services (YESS), which offers support and resources to at-risk youth; and WIN House, providing assistance to women and children fleeing domestic abuse.

By starting their philanthropic efforts now, the Bahers are able to see the effects of their generosity and encourage their children and grandchildren to get involved in community initiatives.

“Our daughter and grandchildren volunteer, and our son was actually the one who introduced us to the work that YESS is doing in the city. All of us are very much involved in the community,” says Bernice.

“We hope that our children and our grandchildren will feel a connection to the fund, and that they’ll continue the spirit of it even after we’ve passed on,” says Ken.

Recently, the Bahers visited one of the organizations they choose to support, YESS, to better appreciate the impact of their help. The experience was profound.

“It was a real eye-opener. I left there in tears, I was so thrilled with what they’re doing,” says Bernice. “I would just love for us to be able to help them more.”

And through the Baher Family Fund, that’s exactly what they’ll do.