Ken Jaeger Transforms Communities in Need
every child dreams of what they want to be when they grow up.
For some, it’s a firefighter; for others, a ballerina. Still others dream of being doctors, lawyers, or basketball stars.
Ken Jaeger dreamed of helping the poor.
Jaeger, a ’83 community health graduate and 2014 distinguished alumnus, was inspired to help the poor at a young age. His mother, who grew up in El Paso, Texas, took Jaeger over the border to Juarez, Mexico, where poverty was rampant.
“I used to see children begging for money, begging for food,” Jaeger said. “It touched me, even as a little boy. I made a commitment to myself that one day when I grew up and got a job I was going to give a percentage of my profits to the poor, especially to children in need.”
Jaeger has kept true to his promise. The North Dakota native moved to the Denver, Colo., area soon after graduating from MSUM. He began work in the senior living industry, and founded his own company, MorningStar Senior Living, 15 years post-graduation.
Since its founding in 2003, MorningStar has grown to a network of over 15 communities in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico. The company continues to grow as Jaeger, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, instills his personal values in employees and residents.
“Giving back is one of our core values (at MorningStar), and it has to start from the top,” Jaeger said. “I started building homes for the homeless in Juarez, Mexico, about 10-12 years ago and it branched out to other countries in the world. Once word got out that I was doing that as the CEO of the company, MorningStar began attracting employees with those same values.”
One of MorningStar’s mission statements is to “Invest generously in our team’s ability to serve well.”
“I’ve charged every leader in our company to be involved in the community,” Jaeger said. “Every leader has grasped onto some avenue of giving. Everybody has a different passion to help and give. Our senior living homes and company have excelled tenfold because of our giving versus always looking at just yourself and your personal growth. You’re looking out for the needs of others.”
Jaeger’s involvement extends far beyond his home community of Lone Tree, Colo. He frequently travels to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, where he built an orphanage four years ago.
About five years ago, Jaeger’s friend invited him to visit the village of Puerto Cabezas, which was home to approximately 35,000 people. In 2007, Hurricane Felix devastated the village, leaving thousands homeless and hundreds of children orphans.
Giving back is one of our core values (at MorningStar), and it has to start from the top. I’ve charged every leader in our company to be involved in the community. Everybody has a different passion to help and give.
“A pastor took in approximately 120 children who were left abandoned, and they were living in a warehouse,” Jaeger said. The pastor explained the conditions, awful as they were, were much better than where the children had previously been.
“Children as young as four years old were living on the streets, being abused, beaten and raped,” Jaeger said. “I flew home and knew I couldn’t change the channel on this, as it’s so easy to do when you see poverty on TV. I asked the pastor if I could build (the children) a new orphanage – a real home with showers and beds and windows. He said he’s been praying about that for years, but nobody would come and do it.”
Three years later, Casa Bernabe was up and running. The state-of-the-art orphanage houses 120 children and is currently at overflow capacity, as poverty continues to grow in the village.
Jaeger and his supporters have opened up a feeding center where over 500 children walk miles every day to receive a single meal. Seeing this need has inspired Jaeger to pursue building another orphanage or two to support the growing number of children in need.
However, without financial support, Jaeger’s endeavors would soon draw to a close.
“It’s a very costly venture, so I’m always looking for people to help and donate,” Jaeger said. “One hundred percent of the donation goes to the orphanage. We have no overhead. We don’t keep any money for administrative cost. Everybody is a volunteer.”
People from all avenues of life have partnered with MorningStar and the Casa Bernabe project, especially Jaeger’s family.
He, his wife Shanna, and children John, Naomi and Christine, travel to Nicaragua multiple times each year to spend time with the children whose lives they have helped improve so greatly.
“When I started going to Juarez 10-12 years ago I took my kids along, so they’ve grown up in an atmosphere of giving,” Jaeger said. “When school is out for the summer months the first thing they want to do is get on the airplane and go live in the orphanage. They’ve grown up with the attitude of let’s give first and all else will be given unto them. They really enjoy serving the poor with the gifts they’ve been blessed with. It doesn’t just take money when you want to serve. It takes your time and your love and your heartfelt concern for others. People want to know you care about them as a person.”
Jaeger says no matter what people choose to do in life, they must do so with the intent to help others in order to find true happiness.
“There are a lot of hurting people in this world,” he said. “Don’t look inwardly at your own problems, but look outwardly to see how you can benefit another person. If you do so, your life is going to be a lot better off down the road.”
Donations to Casa Bernabe Orphanage may be made to “Renew the Hope.” Tax-deductible checks may be mailed to: Renew the Hope, 1769 Chicory Ct., Redding, CA 96002. For more information on MorningStar Senior Living’s charitable giving programs, visit morningstarseniorliving.com/about-us/giving-back. ∎