By Chandler Lutz


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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For the past 40 years, Cheryl Hardy has been an institution here at the Hank Gathers Recreation Center in North Philly.

“She’s like a pillar to the whole community,” said co-worker George Major.

The rec center provides after-school programming and activities for the youth in the neighborhood.

“Do you say this is a safe haven for them?” asked CBS3’s Chandler Lutz.

“You can see it in their faces,” Cheryl said.

Cheryl is the center’s specialist instructor. She helps creates programs based on the community’s needs.

“Every day when the kids come in my front door, they come in and just give me a hug and they say, ‘How’s your day?’ And I say, ‘My day is great. How’s yours?'”

In her time, she has led multiple drives, created experiences, helped with homework, and got kids out on the court. But her daily routine goes far beyond her job description.

“They just sometimes come in and say, ‘Aunt Cheryl, I need to talk,'” Cheryl said. “I’m in here sun up to sundown. And I don’t get paid for sun up to sundown. But I’m here. My heart is here.”

Cheryl’s heart hasn’t always been the strongest.

“I have a defibrillator in my chest. I came back. I had a stroke two years ago. I came back. I’m doing dialysis three times a week, and I’m still here,” Cheryl said.

Now, at 66 years young, Cheryl will retire from the center in February. To say Cheryl will be missed is an understatement. Longtime co-worker George Major says she has changed his life.

“She taught me how to be a better person,” George said. “Everybody. She touches a lot of hearts.”

What does Cheryl hope for the rec center once she’s gone?

“Follow past my footsteps and make it better,” Cheryl said.