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Fire Smokes Out A Beloved Neighborhood Resource

By My Side neighborhood parenting group, a Fishtown nonprofit whose mission is to build community and support local families, needs your help!

By My Side neighborhood parenting group, a nonprofit whose mission is to build community and support local families, called Atonement Church home for 13 years until a small fire forced it to close. Local parents call By My Side “a lifesaver” and are “forever grateful for” the connections and support it offered and are hoping the community will heed its call for help.

Teri Ramsay began By My Side in 1997 to fill a need in the community.

“Having a baby can be so isolating and you don’t know who you are or have any confidence in what you’re doing. It’s good to be able to come and talk about it with folks.”

Like a divine intervention, the pastor of Atonement Church in Fishtown offered the parenting group room in the church to offer new parents a safe space to share experiences, and their little ones a safe place to play. “When you’re a new parent, it’s like going to war,” Teri laughs. “It’s good to be able to come and talk about it with folks. You might learn that, OK, so my kid isn’t the only one who throws a tantrum at 2:58 every day.”

Atonement offered By My Side the space for free “because they understood the deeper effects of building support for parents in early childhood,” recalls Teri. Since its launch, playgroups have been offered several times a week for parents and caretakers for kids to age five, as well as a weekly baby group. This hour-and-a-half support group offers much needed caffeine, as well as the opportunity to form lasting relationships with like-minded families, growing a family’s ‘village’. Over the years, it has grown significantly mostly by word of mouth.

“People who come to playgroup once come back on the regular. It’s like the Cheers of the toddler scene – sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”

Teri herself is a grandmother of seven, ranging in age from seven to twenty-five-years old. Most are teenagers now who are going to college or starting to work. She says they were all part of this community at one point because it’s a special place.

“The parents that move out say there’s nothing else like this anywhere. You might find some mommy-n-me groups, but from what people tell me, the vibe’s not the same. We’re ‘come as you are’. I want this to be the soft place to land.” Teri isn’t right about how much By My Side means to the community … it means even more. Evalina “Wally” Carbonell says, “By My Side was a lifesaver for me as a new mother with zero experience. ‘Thank you’ will never be enough.”

Mary Hoffmaster agrees. “I found the transition to becoming a mother very lonely. My world shrunk down to one goal: keeping my baby alive. By My Side connected me to other mothers going through the same transformation. I am forever grateful for my community built at By My Side.”

“By My Side was ALWAYS by my side. I made incredible connections and was given so much support,” says Jacelyn Blank, who found the group when she was a new mother, and who is currently a teacher at Grandma’s Garden.
Grandma’s Garden, which Teri describes as “playgroup level two,” is typically a half day program which exists so kids can take the first step towards daycare. It’s the same as the playgroup in a lot of ways, but without parents in the room, which makes the transition easier and gives them a good first experience where the trauma of being without mom or dad is not as, well, traumatic.

Mallory Politz McKenna is grateful for the resource now more than ever. “It is exactly what my two-and-a-half-year old needed after a year of the pandemic, and I’m so glad she is able to attend Grandma’s Garden.” While Grandma’s Garden is still open, there is a gap in care for the kids – and parents – who rely on the parenting group. Since the fire, Teri has received offers of spaces where she can relocate permanently, but she’s not considering it. “We’re grateful — a lot of folks are offering us spaces. But Atonement is home.”

To help ensure a quick reopening of this critical neighborhood resource at the church they call
home, they have launched a GoFundMe.

Philly born-and-raised (go Lancers!), Stef is a toddler and dog mom, nonprofit communications professional, and co-owner of 2StreetSammies food truck. As a freelance writer, she covers what she knows -- the trials and tribulations of parenting, as well as offers resources to help moms feel supported and hopefully, a little more sane! She also mentors young women, and volunteers for mission-driven causes to help make the city where she grew up a kinder and better place. Follow me on twitter @stefarck for parenting humor. You can also reach out with story ideas, comments, or just to say hi @ stef@familyfocus.org.