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Yolanda Lonnie Harding, aka "Ms. Lonnie," works to turn Crotona Park around: "She took up where Ms. Fox left off"

South Bronx residents look to keep Miss Hetty Fox's legacy alive
South Bronx residents look to keep Miss Hetty Fox's legacy alive 03:44

NEW YORK - Back in the 1980's, a block in the South Bronx was in the middle of a transformation. If you asked anyone on Lyman Place who was leading the charge, you often got one answer.

"She's doing a marvelous job here, that Ms. Fox," one local resident said. 

Ms. Hetty Fox was a local celebrity in the South Bronx. She worked tirelessly to plant seeds of change in her neighborhood, renovating buildings and giving children a safe place to play and learn.

We first met Ms. Fox 40 years ago during a CBS2 Community Series called "Our Block." We recently re-shared her episode of the series on our streaming channel, CBS News New York, and went back to that very block to check in on her legacy.

While she passed away in 2019, we found her spirit to be very much still alive on the block. But her legacy and vision never faded away, and just a few blocks away on Jennings Street, local leaders are picking up where she left off.

There are people that pick us up in life when we fall down, encourage us to reach for the stars, and help us take every shot, even if we don't succeed. And there's one woman on Jennings Street making it her greatest mission to turn all of this into a reality. 

"Ms. Lonnie is everything... she took up where Ms. Fox left off," said Avily Parker, a basketball coach on Jennings Street.

"I would say Ms. Lonnie is the reincarnated soul of Ms. Fox," said volunteer Anthony Flood.

Ms. Lonnie retired from her banking job and created Caldwell Enrichment Programs in 2014, giving local kids a safe space to play and learn after school. 

"We don't want the children to be uneducated, we don't want the children to be culturally stagnant. We want the children to be able to embrace life and they can't embrace life if they're not happy," Yolanda Lonnie Harding, or Ms. Lonnie, told CBS New York's Shosh Bedrosian.

She's picking up the lost baton Ms. Fox once held to better this community, in a place that might not have all the resources to make it happen.

"Besides the kids going to school, there's nothing for these kids to learn in these communities," said Parker.

But the power of Ms. Fox's mission touched Ms. Lonnie in her own life, and others on this block.

"What she did on Lyman Place exponentially created what we have today," said Ms. Lonnie. "It's generational now,"

The program is for all kids on the block, to hang out for a snack, play a quick pick up game or creative activity. Ms. Lonnie says in her nine years of working on the program, she believes there's been a decrease in violence around the neighborhood.

"To see that we're not having to dodge bullets and we're not having to stop fights, that's an accomplishment for me," Ms. Lonnie said.

Maybe the ones we oftentimes pick up are the ones who lift us.

"What do they mean to you?" asked Bedrosian. 

"They help me keep going... they just don't know it," said Parker.

"The smiles... that's what bring me joy," said Ms. Lonnie. "Just seeing them smile and laugh... that's what kids need. They need a childhood."

You can email Shosh with Bronx story ideas by CLICKING HERE

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