Around the corner from Frankford Avenue, in the heart of Fishtown, lies one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets.
Inside Lutheran Atonement Church on Montgomery Avenue, there’s a large playroom designed to stimulate the mind of a child. Every corner is alive, whether with toys or pet rabbits and turtles. The playroom includes a wooden playhouse, a tent area, and tables for activities.
This room, home of the “By My Side” playgroup, is an oasis for Fishtown parents with small children who bring their children and infants to play here.
“We try to be an extended family for these kids,” said Teri Ramsay, founder and executive director of the By My Side program. “Just being in this environment is helpful to brain development for kids.”
Children brought to By My Side by their parents seemed to be having a fantastic time when Star visited the Thursday morning session last week. Kids were running, jumping, talking, and playing all sorts of games.
Five-year-old Conrad Precht eloquently listed his favorite things to do at By My Side.
“I like to play, and I like to watch, and I like to play with Ellis,” Precht said, pointing to the friend beside him.
It all comes about due to the positive environment organized and engineered by Ramsay, 59, said the parents in attendance.
“She is a great neighborhood asset,” said Dennis Devine, who was attending with his two sons.
A mother of four and grandmother of 11, Ramsay has worked for over 20 years in childcare. She also runs an after-school program at St. Laurentius Church in Fishtown.
“Teri has taught me how to be strong,” said Jeanne Gnoza, whose granddaughter attends By My Side. “She watched my kids grow up.”
Gnoza first met Ramsay when she brought her 6-month-old son to a previous daycare operated by Ramsay in Port Richmond. All five of her children eventually went to Ramsay’s daycare programs.
Now, Gnoza is “starting all over again,” as she put it, with bringing her granddaughter to Ramsay’s newest group, which will reach its sixth anniversary on Sept. 7.
Ramsay’s experience working with underprivileged parents taught her a lot about the importance of daycare programs for both kids and parents. It helps kids let out their energy, but also helps parents deal with problems with their kids.
“Your 2-year-old having a meltdown every two minutes is completely normal,” Ramsay said.
Ramsay’s work has also created a network of parents in the community who support each other.
“I’ve made a lot of friends who I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for our playgroup,” said Kristen Lampe, who was at the group with her 3-year-old and 6-year-old. “And it’s just two blocks away, this amazing group of parents and friends.”
Lampe said she found out about Ramsay’s group by pure chance.
“I ran into Teri on the street and had my baby with me, and she said ‘Come to playgroup,’” Lampe recalled.
Now, starting in September, Lampe will begin working as one of the facilitators of a new program: Grandma’s Garden Playschool, a morning playgroup for children.
Previously, By My Side has offered parent and child playgroups three times a week, with a group for infants once a week, and “Just Us Kids” playgroup twice a week. But as it reaches its sixth anniversary and goes in its seventh year of operation, Ramsay is expanding the programs to every day of the week, and hoping to get more families involved.
ldquo;This is the year I can finally give it a little bit more focus,” Ramsay said. “It’s just like raising a child. First, it was an adopted new born. Then we were getting to know each other’s schedules, getting through the teething. Now, we finally have some communication skills.”
“We’re trying to take this to whatever place these folks need,” Ramsay said. “I try to listen to what they want.”
For more information on the By My Side group, visit its website at www.neighborhoodparenting.org. ••