An ‘amazing group of parents and friends’

 The By My Side play­group in Fishtown gives kids a chance to let loose through play, while giv­ing par­ents a chance to find sup­port in one an­oth­er. 

A child’s oas­is: Teri Ram­say (cen­ter), founder and ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the By My Side play­group in Fishtown, leads loc­al par­ents and kids in a sing-a-long last week. STAR PHOTO / SAM NE­W­HOUSE

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.neigh­bor­hood­par­ent­ ••

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