From Saloon to Sanctuary

In 2008, lifelong West Philadelphia resident, Kevin Upshur chose to make a difference in his crime-ridden neighborhood. When his family bar closed due to escalating violence, Upshur re-imagined, then re-purposed it into a life-changing youth center.

The Strawberry Mansion Learning Center provides a safe haven for children, offering stability, friendship, and education. Bookshelves line the walls while nearby chairs and a couch invite students to sit and stay a while.

Many kids in the area don’t have a computer at home and the city’s libraries restrict access to an hour a day. The center’s donated computers offer them a chance to research for as long as they like—as long as they’re doing their homework.

The not-for-profit is open to all children in the community at no cost. Parents just have to stop by and sign them up. Field trips, motivational speaking events, mentoring opportunities, and healthy meals are also offered, along with lessons in black history and other ethnic groups and cultures.

Daily attendance averages around 15 kids per day, with twice as many in the summer months.

As attendance continues to grow, Upshur is working on expanding the learning center, which relies on donations and fundraisers. Through local connections and the help of a Go Fund Me campaign, he’s managed to secure the empty lot next door and is raising money for a new building, which will include a kitchen area for cooking lessons and office space for the administration.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the children,” said Upshur, who works for the city as a full-time youth detention counselor.

His goal is to prevent kids from ever reaching detention.
Through literacy and the learning center, he hopes to steer kids away from crime and toward a brighter future.