The mama: Dena Ferrara Driscoll may live in Passyunk Square, but she’s basically everywhere in this city — biking (on the world’s coolest bike) around Philly with her kids Milo, 7, and Juniper, 4; co-chairing the 5th Square Political Action Committee; and organizing Kidical Mass Philadelphia (which she also founded). And that’s just in her spare time — she also has a job with the School District of Philadelphia as a Grant and Development Specialist. It’s a vital job. “I help SDP district offices and public schools write and submit competitive grants,” she says. “I also teach caregivers, community members, and SDP staff/teachers learn to fund-raise and write grants themselves.” In 2016 her office brought in $50 million (!!!) in competitive funding to the district. “While I have been in non-profit development for a number of years, working for our city’s public schools feels extra important. All our children deserve an equitable education no matter what neighborhood they live in.”
Did you grow up in Philly? How long have you lived here? I grew up in North Jersey, but came to Philly for college in 2002, and with the exception of one summer I lived at my parents’ home, I have never left. I’ve lived all over the city, but love South Philly the most. I want to grow old here.
Where do your kids attend daycare/preschool/school? My son attends our neighborhood public school, Jackson, and my daughter is completing her last year of preschool at Arch Street Preschool in Center City.
Favorite kids’ classes: Throughout the year, we definitely over-schedule our kids. Our kids take dance lessons at Dance Unlimited and private swimming lessons at Fitness Alive. Every spring they play Taney Baseball, and they do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Osagame Martial Arts.
Best way to spend a Saturday afternoon as a family: We love exploring museums and biking in our city.
Parents’ class: I highly recommend that parents in Philly check out FACT Workshops put on by the Family and Community Engagement Office at the School District.
Date night: Our favorite date night is strolling down to E. Passyunk for delicious food and drinks. Our go-to bar is P.O.P.E — we’ve been going there since long before we had children.
Favorite spring break camp or summer camp: We love our local Parks and Rec summer camp. It’s well-priced, and my son gets to go swimming twice a day! We also pad in a couple of weeks at The Academy of Natural Science and Baseball Camp: Last year my son went to a lovely free camp for one week hosted by the Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas Foundation.
Special find for families: Cira Green Park — on top of a parking garage in University City, along the river — is such a cool spot to take kids for a picnic. Great views of the city, and my kids LOVE rolling down the hills at the park. We stop for takeout at Shake Shack first.
Rainy day go-to: IKEA. And based on how busy it is, we aren’t the only ones who go there on a rainy day!
Holiday tradition (any holiday): We have two key Christmas traditions. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, we go out to West Chester and take a train to go cut down our tree. We also always go to Frankford Hall to visit Santa. We’ve been going for the past 7 years, and we are all pretty sure that they have the real Santa. Moreover, mostly every other holiday, we love a good block party! Halloween is basically one big block party in my neighborhood — shut-down streets with kids running everywhere.
Outing or event you avoid: The Flower Show. It is just always so, so, so crowded and expensive. I really want to love it, but find it the worst.
Outing or event you love: Philly Free Streets! Although nothing can live up to the Pope’s visit when a grid of streets were closed to cars and open to people, I love the Philly Free Streets event as a good supplement.
Favorite app for parents, or favorite app for kids: My favorite “parent” app is Timehop, which mines through your social media each day to show you pictures/posts/tweets. I love seeing the pictures of my kids on that day from year to year. However, my most used app is Twitter. My kids’ most-used app is probably YouTube Kids. We all know it’s the worst, but it buys us so much time. We recently downloaded a bunch of TinyBop apps — one even explains how mammals eat, feel, see, run, fly and grow. It is super cool.
Favorite massage or spa treatment or some treat for you: More than place, I am a products person. I love going to Sephora and buying everything. But I often think about treating myself to a facial one day!
Family-friendly restaurant: Dim Sum Garden is our favorite go-to restaurant. My kids are obsessed with scallion pancakes and soup dumplings, plus our whole family can eat for under $30.
Favorite cultural activity: A tried-and-true favorite is The Academy of Natural Sciences. But since I went to graduate school for Museum Education, my kids have long been avid museum-goers. My son loves to build museums dioramas and exhibits with his Lego blocks.
Favorite community service with kids: As a mom who’s engaged in politics, community organizing and trying to make positive change in our city, my kids have been at my side for community meetings, clean-ups, protests, and etc. I love to engage in civic-duty activities with my children. For a hands-on family service project, we’re big fans of Not In Philly, a community-based solution to a cleaner city. My kids have a child-sized trash picker that they use to keep our local blocks clean.
Gear you can’t live without: I have been carrying the same locally made R.E. Load Backpack every day for the past seven years, first as a diaper bag and now as an everything backpack. My son even borrowed it from me this year when he had to bring a ton of stuff to school one day. On the higher end, I also own a front-load cargo bicycle that I have used for the past 5 years to carry my kids around the city. We have one car that my husband uses to reach his work in NE Philly, so this bicycle has been the best minivan I could ever ask for in the city. Yes, I think biking with kids is safe, but it could be safer! Please let your councilperson know you support protected bike lanes for safer family biking in the city.
Person/professional you can’t live without: Honestly, my kids’ teachers and after-school leaders. They are all great. However, our crossing guards are someone I couldn’t live without. I love connecting with them each morning as they help me and my children walk to school.
Indulgence you can’t live without: Getting my hair professionally done. Right now, I’m going to Cultivate X.
Place for baby/children’s gifts: We love our local toyshop, Tildie’s Toy Box.
Favorite children’s book right now: My youngest has been obsessed with “reading” Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus recently. I love that she has it memorized and she “reads” it back to me in the same cadence I have read it to her for years.
Favorite outdoorsy thing to do with kids: Riding bikes anywhere and everywhere — with the exception of Kelly Drive. (The SRT is just excessively busy for us.) In general, we spend a lot of time outdoors, whether we are at our beloved parks or just walking around our neighborhood.
Best community service or neighborhood activity: I love engaging in local politics and at neighborhood meetings. If you want to do more in your neighborhood, you should think about joining your local rec center’s advisory board.
Fun kids’ party spot or party entertainment, or both: In warm weather we are big fans of block parties. We hosted one for our daughter last year — you get to close down the street for $25 and open it up to kids for lots of possibilities. We had sidewalk chalk, a bubble machine, a sprinkler and a bounce house. For cold weather parties, we just hosted one at Lume Studios on Passyunk Ave. for our 7-year-old, and it was great. We served parents wine and beer while our kids made an awesome superhero project. The teachers were so flexible and welcoming.
Best piece of advice you’ve gotten about parenting: The days are long but the years are short. When my kids were tiny babies, I was so much in “the trenches” that it was often exhausting and overwhelming. Now I am still not entirely sure how my tiny baby is 7. I’m glad I snuggled and held my kids when they were babies all the time. I will never regret that I let my tiny babies sleep on me instead of cleaning my house or doing dishes.
Any mom’s groups you love? I truly love all my “co-parents” from my kids’ schools. They provide so much wisdom, support, and love. I have also loved connecting online with other moms and parents over the years.
Best parenting book you read: I have only read two parenting books, but my biggest recommendation in general as a parent with not a lot of time but who loves to read is to invest in Audible. It is awesome.
Favorite parent hack, or Philly hack: Once your kid outgrows the stroller, get a scooter (3-wheeled)! Even if the kid is having a rough day, they can just stand on it and you can drag them. They’re super easy to take on public transit, too.
Favorite toy or kid entertainment in your house right now: We installed a $25 IKEA swing in our basement. So worth it! The kids love swinging on it. Otherwise, Lego blocks rule everything in our home.
Toy or book you’d like to lose forever: Playdough. My kid loves it, but it is kind of the worst.
One thing you wish Philly had that it doesn’t: The Container Store. I am obsessed and wish we had one in the city.
Hardest part of raising kids here: All the drivers who put my kids’ lives in danger by rolling stop signs and being impatient.
Best part of raising kids here: Our amazing public spaces! We don’t need a big backyard when the city is full of great outdoor spaces for families to explore and play.