Courtesy of Kevin Upshur (PHILADELPHIA) — For some Philadelphia youth, their after-school home was once a bar.
When Kevin Upshur’s mother passed away 10 yeas ago, he decided to transform his once family-owned bar into the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center, a safe haven for the children of his Philadelphia community.
The center provides children with books, unlimited computer access, healthy meals and the opportunity to be mentored by the center’s volunteers.
“My mom had asked me to work and take care of some young people because of all the violence in the community,” Upshur told ABC News. Now, by providing resources and a safe space for the children, the social worker is doing just that.
The not-for-profit is open to all children in the community, so long as their parents are willing to stop by and sign them up. There are up to 25 kids in the center on any given day, according to Upshur, including some former mentees in college who now return to the Learning Center to study long hours — sometimes overnight — for their exams.
“[The kids] kind of really flop down when they come in and they feel good about being there,” Upshur said of the comfortable environment he aims to provide for the children. The center also takes its children on field trips and frequently collaborates with local charities.
Upshur said he especially prioritizes reading and educating the children on history and African-American studies.
“We see them grow and mature in a way where they become more conscious about who they are and what they need to do,” Upshur said. “And that’s one of the most rewarding things that I get.”
The center relies on donations and fundraisers, such as fish fries and an upcoming skating party, to stay afloat. Funding often presents a challenge for Upshur, who is looking to replace old computers and add a TV so that the children have an opportunity to watch the news and other channels they may not have access to at home.
Despite these obstacles, Upshur hopes to expand the space and make it a permanent institution that can serve Strawberry Mansion’s generations to come.
“I sit there sometimes and it brings tears to my eyes to see what has happened and what it has become,” he said. “It’s about people coming together to make a difference.”
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