Annie’s Hope – The Center for Grieving Kids had been the dream of the founder, Becky Byrne, since the 1980’s.
The non-profit organization, formerly The St. Louis Bereavement Center for Young People, was formed December 18, 1997 with federally recognized, tax exempt status awarded March 19, 1998. The founding board members were Melissa McCartie, Ken Abendschein and Becky Byrne. The logo concept was a gift from Ken Abendschein but was perfected by a Graphic Designer, Steve Slais, for the St. Louis Bereavement Center for Young People, and later by Jen Hahn of Paper Lime for the name change to Annie’s Hope. When celebrating our 20th birthday in 2018, the Zeis Group refreshed our logo. The logo’s design inspired a variety of images including the representation of the flower as an individual losing a part of themselves to a school losing a faculty member. The fallen petal has been seen as cradled in the love and care of others, to cradled in the support and compassion Annie’s Hope offers.
Services began with family support groups in the early spring of 1998 and have developed into 10 different programs. The major event that took place in 1999 was the establishment of Camp Courage. The first year, the camp was a weekend experience for 56 kids. Since 2000, the camp has been a 4-night/5-day experience and has a total attendance of about 160 campers. In 2009, Camp Courage was separated into Camp Courage and Camp Erin – St. Louis. In 2019, Camp Erin – St. Louis was renamed Camp Courage – Teens and a new logo was designed. In the first year of Annie’s Hope’s existence, approximately 50 families were supported in a program or service while in 2014 that number increased to over 3,000 children, teen and adults with over 7,000 contacts between them. In addition to expansion in programs, Annie’s Hope has had much growth in staff since 1998. October 2001 was a monumental month for the first employee, a part time Operations Manager, Kay Walsh, was hired. And, 2003 started off in an exciting way as Joel Michael, an Annie’s Hope mission family member, created and brought our first web site to life. In 2004, our first part-time Development Director and part-time Grants Manager were hired and Annie’s Hope made a move to our current location in Glendale. As programs and resources grew, we hired a FT Horizons Coordinator, a FT Horizons Assistant, a FT School Support & Education Coordinator, a FT Program Director, a FT Program Coordinator, a FT Program Manager, a FT Operations Manager and transitioned from a PT Grants Manager to a PT Relationship Manager. In 2014, we were most grateful to have our first endowment fund. To recognize the 10 year anniversary of his wife’s death, Ken Mersmann, his current wife, and his three children started the Annie Carter Mersmann Memorial Fund to protect the future of our programs. In 2018, we celebrated 20 years of serving grieving kids and their families.
Annie’s Hope’s approach is very family-centered due to the fact that children and teens do not exist outside their family. “Family” constitutes all those persons who support and care for the grieving child. There is no cost to the grieving families for involvement. There is no affiliation with a religious group, health care system or any other entity. Existing for all grieving families who seek our support, regardless of race, ethnicity, weight, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical challenge, spiritual beliefs, and financial situation, is fundamental to our mission.