MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – For anyone who has had a loved one diagnosed with an illness or in the hospital, CaringBridge is probably a familiar product.

The website, created by Sona Mehring, helps connect people during the difficult time in their lives.

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Now, after 20 years of connecting people, the founder of CaringBridge is passing the torch. Mehring is stepping away from the nonprofit she started and retiring in June.

Mehring’s commitment to the CaringBridge cause is what that makes her this week’s Minnesotan to Meet.

It’s website whose wingspan has crossed hundreds of countries worldwide.

In 1997 friends of CaringBridge founder, Mehring, gave birth to a baby girl, and that same night the first CaringBridge website was born.

“Good friends of mine had a very premature baby, and they asked me to let people know what was going on. As I made two phone calls, I thought ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ And that night, the night their baby Brighid was born, the first CaringBridge site was born and instantly helped people know what was going on,” Mehring said. “But the WOW was this connection that we all had through that website.”

Baby Brighid only lived for nine days, a heartbreaking loss.

At the time Mehring, a long time Eagan resident, was running a web design company. But after Brighid’s death she soon realized CaringBridge was her calling.

“I thought, ‘This is so important when you’re going through this health journey.’ My mom was a nurse, so throughout my whole childhood I was exposed to that health care system and I knew how important it was to have friends and family there,” Mehring said.

Mehring spent her spare time keeping the website up and running and donations began to trickle in.

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“I had unsolicited donations sent to me and that was kind of the eureka moment of, ‘This can and should be a nonprofit.'” Mehring said.

Now, 90 percent of their funding comes from donations. In 2002, CaringBridge became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Mehring said she’s proud of the progress her team has accomplished to give loved ones a centralized health update.

“Google wasn’t even around, so to see the 20 years, see what’s changed not only in technology but how we as a society connect, it’s been amazing,” Mehring said.

According to the company’s website, since 1997 more than half a million CaringBridge websites have been created.

“The first thing I heard was ‘I would never go online to share anything.’ Well, think about that 20 years later. We share a lot of information online, in fact we seek it out to share information online. That is like night and day,” Mehring said.

Every six minutes a new CaringBridge site is created, and Mehring calls it an integral tool to keeping family and friends in the loop.

“It’s almost vital that CaringBridge continues to have this positive, single-use system that people can come together and have a positive, uplifting experience. It’s more important today than ever,” Mehring said.

One in nine people in the U.S. has used CaringBridge.

Mehring told WCCO she loves traveling the country and hearing people’s CaringBridge stories at the airport, coffee shops and pretty much everywhere she goes.

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Mehring may be retiring, but she plans to still do consulting work on the side.  The website is celebrating 20 years with stories from over the years. If you have a story about how Caring Bridge has had an impact on your life, let them know. To share a story, visit CaringBridge online.