Receiving a diagnosis of terminal heart disease, a young mother’s first thought was not of herself, but her young son, because she had no other family. At the recommendation of her doctor, she called Saint Louis Crisis Nursery. “That was a couple of years ago,” says nursery CEO DiAnne Mueller. “He was only 6 at the time, and she had no one to help her. But now, every time she goes in to the hospital, we care for him, and he loves being at the nursery for the toys, the movies and the hugs!”

Hugs and love have been an important part of the day for the babies, children and staff at Saint Louis Crisis Nursery since its doors opened in 1986—a collaborative effort of the Junior League, the St. Louis chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and Deaconess Hospital. During the last 25 years, that single nursery has grown to five nurseries and five outreach centers, Mueller notes. “The outreach centers offer support services that include the Family Empowerment Program, providing in-home assessment for children from birth to 3 years, as well as toys, books, parent support groups and family outings. Last year, we kept more than 7,000 children safe from abuse and neglect, and that’s just fabulous!”

The statistics on child abuse in Missouri are sobering, Mueller says. “In 2008, 98 children in Missouri died due to abuse or negligence and 89 percent were younger than 4. And it’s estimated that the incidents of child abuse could be three times what is reported, because so many children 5 and under are isolated.” All of the nursery staff are trained to make those observations, she adds. “We’re a prevention agency, so we do a great job of getting to families before those things happen.”

Parents who bring a child to the nursery do so voluntarily when they need help. “It must be a crisis situation,” Mueller explains. “What we call overwhelming parental stress, or maybe homelessness or domestic violence. Sometimes the women’s shelters have a place for Mom, but no bed for the kids, and those kids are always welcome to come to us!” The success rate, she adds, is remarkable. “Ninety-nine percent of the children return home to their families, safe and protected. Isn’t that a reason to cheer?”

For 21 of its 25 years, Saint Louis Crisis Nursery has presented Celebrity Waitresses’ & Waiters’ Night, featuring local celebrities serving at area restaurants. “It’s a great summer night out!” Mueller says. “There’s no ticket price, and all of the money raised— from tips, donations and raffle sales—directly benefits the nursery.” The Aug. 18 event takes place at Cardwell’s at the Plaza and Canyon Café, but reservations at Cardwell’s are sold out. Happy hour and postdinner events also are scheduled at Brio’s Tuscan Grille and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.

The young mother who turned to Saint Louis Crisis Nursery is doing better, Mueller says. “She enrolled in our Family Empowerment Program, and was able to find a distant relative in Texas who has offered to take care of her son when she no longer can. We see miracles like that every day.”