Angels Among Us
“How did you know to come today?” It’s a repeated greeting the counselors of Saint Louis Crisis Nursery receive when going door to door to check on parents in high-risk areas of St. Louis. “A mother will answer the door in tears, because her baby’s been in the same diaper for three days, she’s out of food, the power’s been turned off… it’s really a miracle to her when we arrive,” says DiAnne Mueller, Crisis Nursery CEO.
In its 33 years, Saint Louis Crisis Nursery has served and protected some 117,000 children through intervention, helping to meet basic needs, counseling and family empowerment, knowing full well that caring for parents in crisis is the key to caring for the child. “I haven’t yet met one person who doesn’t want to be a good parent, doesn’t have hopes and dreams for their child, isn’t willing to put in the work,” says Mueller. “It’s the stress, the daily struggle, the violence of poverty that becomes too much.”
The first of its kind in Missouri, today Saint Louis Crisis Nursery operates five 24/7 nursery sites, 10 outreach centers, a 24-hour helpline and myriad of programs and services that help parents and children form lasting bonds. Its outreach spreads north to Ferguson, west to Wentzville, south to Jefferson County and across the river to East St. Louis. The organization is part of training future social workers and counselors and has hundreds of dedicated volunteers. (One 80-year-old grandmother rides two buses to get to her center, says Mueller.) Crisis Nursery also has held long-term partnerships with SSM (SSM’s former CEO, Sister Mary Jean Ryan, grew up two doors down from Mueller), BJC, IFM Community Medicine and many others.
“We can’t serve the community without collaborating and leaning on each other as a community,” says Mueller. It’s a statement that became very real to Mueller in 2014, when Saint Louis Crisis Nursery faced its own crisis – one of a financial nature. After two major funding sources went in another direction, Mueller didn’t know where to turn. “I happened to see a piece on YouthBridge in the St. Louis Business Journal and gave them a call.” What happened next was her own miracle, she says. “CEO Michael Howard sat with me, heard the urgency in my voice and immediately went to work contacting family foundations he thought could help. They not only got us over an enormous hurdle but one of the foundations has become a committed supporter. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to YouthBridge.”
Through the generosity of St. Louisans and Mueller’s ambitious leadership, Crisis Nursery continues to grow as a haven for children and families. “No matter how much brick and mortar we have, however, we will never stop being on the front lines and going where we’re needed,” says Mueller. Fully aware of the personal risk, Mueller and her team still walk the streets, knocking on doors. “It feeds the soul, as there’s nothing more powerful than wrapping our arms around a young, single mom at her lowest, finding out what she needs that day, figuring out what’s next and walking forward with her.”