Stories of Impact: South Carolina Principal Inspires Community of Changemakers

| 7 min read Screen-Shot-2021-03-03-at-8.04.09-AM

GoFundMe garners worldwide attention and support to meet students’ critical needs North Charleston High School Principal Henry Darby (middle) chats...

GoFundMe garners worldwide attention and support to meet students’ critical needs

North Charleston High School Principal Henry Darby (middle) chats with (left to right) Matt O’Neill, Jesse Rone and Mason Wright at an event honoring his actions. Rone and Wright raised $183,000 for Darby through GoFundMe and presented him with a GoFundMe Big Check on March 3, 2021. Photo courtesy of Matt O’Neill Real Estate.

At North Charleston High (NCHS), Principal Henry Darby is on a mission to ensure every student graduates and is prepared for life beyond the school’s walls. Mixed among their bright, youthful faces are stories of hope, resilience and unlimited potential.

Principal Darby knows firsthand the power of harnessing the Charleston spirit and the value of giving back. He volunteered at local senior centers while growing up in the area and even benefitted from the community’s support through challenging times. He’s been committed to paying it forward ever since as an educator and city councilman. So, it was only natural for giving to be his first response when he recognized the immediate need for help in his community.

In September, Darby took a graveyard shift at Walmart restocking shelves three nights a week with one mission in mind: helping his students. Every dollar Darby earned was used to help his students and their families, from paying mortgage, rent, or utility bills to assisting with other necessities to help them focus on school.

“I do think those of us who know what poverty is and was, and for those of us who have made it into the middle class, that we should have a judicious understanding to give back to the community because we know how it feels,” said Principal Darby.

About 90% of students at North Charleston High School are at or below the poverty level, and some are working one or two jobs to help support their families. These students are bravely facing two fronts: preparing for tomorrow and overcoming existential challenges today — ranging from living under a bridge or in a car to lacking a reliable source of food or basic necessities such as coats in the middle of winter.

Jesse Rone and Mason Wright (right) honor Principal Darby in an award ceremony. Photo courtesy of Matt O’Neill Real Estate.

When Principal Darby was recruited to North Charleston High School four years ago, the school was in danger of closing because of low attendance and test scores. His efforts boosted not only these traditional markers for successful schools but also the morale among teachers and students.

Still, there is a long way to go. The school district provides the funding that is required to keep the doors open, yet some students at NCHS require much more and Principal Darby has not hesitated to bridge the gap when needed.

Community in Action

Once Principal Darby’s story got out to his local community in January, many jumped in right away to support his mission and give back to North Charleston students.

George Kinzler is a full-time student at the College of Charleston and felt compelled to help Principal Darby in any way he could. He was reminded of a principal and basketball coach he used to play against in his home state of New Jersey who also went out of his way to care for his students, and the similarities inspired George to take action. He decided a GoFundMe would be the easiest way to rally community support for Principal Darby.

“Principal Darby’s work ethic and selflessness is truly inspiring, [and] he motivates me to be the best and hardest working person in the room,” George wrote on the GoFundMe. “Principal Henry Darby is an exemplary man and citizen. He is the perfect role model for the younger generation to look up to.”

Jesse Rone and Mason Wright had recently launched their own social media campaign to highlight local stories in the Charleston community when they became aware of Principal Darby’s story. Despite being from the area, neither had a connection to Mr. Darby or NCHS, but wanted to alleviate some of the responsibility he placed on his shoulders. They turned to GoFundMe.

“In this time with the whole pandemic, these students have it really tough and this has made things just that much tougher,” said Mason. “We’re obviously all in a harder state, but you look at someone who doesn’t have a place to sleep, doesn’t have a meal coming in, and there are people out there who truly need the help.” Jesse added, “His main purpose is really to be at that school and helping his community in that way.”

Jesse Rone and Mason Wright present the GoFundMe Big Check to Principal Darby (not pictured). Photo courtesy of Matt O’Neill Real Estate.

Both GoFundMe’s started with the idea of only raising a couple thousand dollars to help the students at North Charleston High School. However, people were so inspired by Principal Darby that even though some had no connection to the Charleston area or the high school, they gave what they could to make an impact on the lives of those in the local community.

“I donated because I come from a similar background as these students and had a teacher who mentored and provided financial support to me without asking anything but to pay it forward,” commented one donor. “Opportunities like this afford me the opportunity to fulfill my promise.”

Ultimately, community members and strangers alike donated more than $200,000 to Principal Darby and NCHS students. Although the intention was to garner enough support so Principal Darby could quit his job at Walmart, he still works there three times a week as part of his commitment to his students.

“We could hand this man a million dollars and give the school a million dollars and he would still go [work another job for his students],” said Mason. “Should a principal have to do that? Absolutely not. But for Principal Darby, it’s not even a question. He wants to give back.”

Creating Changemakers

The support shown through the fundraisers on GoFundMe has the potential to make a long-term impact in the lives of students for classes now and into the future. Principal Darby and his team at NCHS are giving students the education, skills and resources to propel them into their futures.

It’s too early to tell the exact impact this support will have on the students, and while some immediate needs have already been addressed, there are greater implications for what it can do. The Cougar Spirit Booster Club wants to expand students’ experiences. In the past, these trips to Columbia, South Carolina, and Washington D.C. were the first time NCHS students left Charleston.

Principal Darby’s commitment to his students extends beyond when they leave the school, and he has helped many former students who are pursuing higher education but don’t have the tools they need while they work toward their future. Whether it be through college, trade schools or other avenues, the ultimate goal is to get students to a place where they can be safe and successful, so in turn, they can give back to their community one day.

Principal Darby holds the Local Hero award presented to him by Matt O’Neill Real Estate, created for him in recognition of incredible devotion, altruism, and dedication to the community. Photo courtesy of Matt O’Neill Real Estate.

Beyond This Moment

The monetary support North Charleston High School, Principal Darby, and Cougar Spirit have received will change lives and bolster their mission to help their students and families—but more can be done to help the students.

“We have to look at the larger society to see what we are doing to assist poverty,” said Principal Darby. “I think the general public and the private aspect of the community should assist.”

Community members can also use their time to make an impact by offering experiences and internships to students to “give students the opportunity to see things differently in terms of the workforce,” said Darby.

“Not everything is about financial resources. Sometimes that educational resource and career resource would inspire our students to go beyond high school.”

This is part of the GoFundMe Stories of Impact series, which shines a light on lives that have been transformed by our community’s kindness. To read more stories, visit: