Strawberry Mansion Learning Center in the internet spotlight

"I was excited," said Kevin Upshur, 57, the center's founder. "You have people who call you and want to tell your story - and really tell it in a way that can help you to help others."

THIS SUMMER, when the world's eyes were on Philadelphia because of the Democratic National Convention, the Huffington Post went to North Philadelphia to visit the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center.

The Huffington Post wanted to film a story on gun violence and had sought out a CeaseFire PA fellow, who suggested reporters go to the Learning Center.

"I was excited," said Kevin Upshur, 57, the center's founder. "You have people who call you and want to tell your story - and really tell it in a way that can help you to help others."

In 2008, Upshur, a counselor at the city's youth detention center, converted what had been his family's neighborhood bar into an after-school sanctuary, where children can get help with homework, read books, and eat an extra meal.

The Learning Center, on Dauphin Street near 30th, is just a few blocks from Strawberry Mansion High School, in a neighborhood wracked by violence. The high school has a graduation rate of 41 percent - almost exactly half the national average.

After the Huffington Post posted a video and story about the center, GoFundMe decided to spotlight the Learning Center's mission.

In fact, GoFundMe donated the first $2,000 in a campaign to raise $20,000 to help the Learning Center renovate its kitchen and bathrooms, and create an office space.

"We are inspired by Kevin's story as a lifelong counselor and mentor for at-risk youth in the Strawberry Mansion community," said Bartlett Jackson, GoFundMe's regional communications manager.

"We hope that this will help him be able to expand his center so he can help even more young men and women."

Upshur wants to convert the one first-floor bathroom into two bathrooms, and modernize the old bar kitchen to provide culinary training as well as make it easier to provide meals to children and families.

This summer, Upshur and volunteers held a summer program in which the children read books and learned to golf, play tennis and cook.

They also met Abigail Thibeault, a recent Temple Law School graduate who had a yearlong fellowship with CeaseFire PA, which works to prevent gun violence.

"In Pennsylvania right now, you can buy a long gun when you're 18 years old and to buy a handgun, you have to be 21," Thibeault said.

She said the youths, who all said they knew that anyone could get a gun easily in their neighborhood, "were shocked" that an 18-year-old could buy a long gun.

"The laws on getting a gun don't make sense to me," Jasir Morris, 14, who worked at the summer program, said this week.

When the Huffington Post contacted Thibeault to film a report about gun violence, she suggested reporters talk to Upshur instead.

"I said they should talk to people in the community, not just people researching," said Thibeault, now a public defender in Maryland. And they did.

Over the years, Upshur said, his work at the center has been guided by the words of his late mother, Shirley, who died in 2006. "My mother is the motivation in this," he told the Daily News during an interview in 2013.

"We were talking about all the violence and the shootings going on, and she said to me, 'What are you men going to do about this?' "

The Huffington Post video and article can be seen at: http://huff.to/2bBxlzo.

The GoFundMe page is at http://bit.ly/2c7Wxxm.

russv@phillynews.com

215-854-5987 @ValerieRussDN