BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – Motivating young people to pursue their potential is the focus of WSAV’s Remarkable Women finalist from the Lowcountry.

From educating to fostering an atmosphere where every child feels comfortable to share, Debry Thompson has become a mother to dozens of kids who get the chance to follow in her footsteps.

“It’s really humbling to see the kids, the love and the bonding they have with Debry,” Ginny Bankov said. “When they get off the bus, most of them are running to the door.”

Eighteen years ago, Debry stumbled upon the Boys & Girls Club.

“Before I came to the Boys & Girls Club, I worked in the Beaufort County School District. And at the time, the position that I had, they were talking about discontinuing it,” the Yemassee native explained.

“Being a single parent and, you know, being the support for my children — I had two children at the time — I knew I needed to work to support my kids,” Debry continued. “So this position became available, and I applied for it not really thinking I would get the position, but I knew that I loved kids and what I did in the school system.

“It was the best decision that I’ve ever made.”

The single mother, and now grandmother, serves as the area director for northern Beaufort and a site director in Sheldon for the Boys & Girls Club.

Bankov, a volunteer who’s worked with Debry for the past six years, said the community leader creates a safe space to share her big heart with the little feet running in and out of her doors.

“They’re so happy to be here. It’s such a safe, wonderful, nourishing place,” she said. “Debry’s such an amazing role model. She has this enormous capacity for love and compassion.”

“It’s almost overwhelming for me to talk about it because it’s such a beautiful thing,” Bankov said, overcome by emotion.

As a loving leader, Debry knows what kids have to face every day.

“They might pick on you or bully you for no reason. I’m sick of being bullied,” Markion Stokes, who attends the club, said of his school experience.

The teenager said he loves coming to a place where he has the chance to get help and be supported by the staff.

“I always tell my kids, you always treat people the way you want to be treated,” Debry said, describing the values the club works to instill in young people.

From the pandemic to peer pressure, children carry a lot on their shoulders.

“I think we’re losing children a little bit to tablets and pads — the internet,” Bankov explained talking about Debry’s focus on teaching kids what they need to know for school and beyond the classroom.

“Just interacting, knowing how to behave socially and, you know, just things that are going to help them now and help them for the rest of their lives,” Bankov added.

Rashid Flanders, whose daughter attends the Sheldon Boys & Girls Club, said Debry has helped his child with her math homework and so much more.

“There’s a lot of kids, some of them come from broken homes, but she also plays a part in making them feel welcome, and you know at ease,” he said. “She makes it known, kind of like we’re all a family here. She does a lot of participating with different events, fundraisers, making the kids motivated to want to do stuff.”

Debry, who knows what it’s like to be a working single parent, said she focuses on teaching the mission statement of the Boys & Girls Club: “…to enable all kids to reach their full potential as caring, productive citizens.”

Staff Sgt. Byron Lloyd grew up attending the Sheldon Boys & Girls Club and said Debry personally changed his life.

She’s just such a big part of who the children become.

Ginny Bankov, friend of Debry Thompson

“From elementary school all the way up to high school, it was such a positive experience on my life, especially growing up in the neighborhood I grew up in. It wasn’t the best circumstances, so being a part of the Boys & Girls Club, it kept me on the right positive track,” said Lloyd, who is now serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Debry said seeking the kids who come in “shy without a lot of friends” growing into caring adults is what she believes is the “best feeling in the world.”

Theniah Morris, who grew up under Debry’s direction at the club, said the child advocate and friend created a space where she could pursue her personal goals.

“It felt good to know that you had a safe place to go to after school. Not only was it a safe place, but it was a place full of love, full of support, and encouragement and empowerment,” Morris, who now has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, described.

Bankov said although their community is tucked away, what Debry does for the children is nothing short of heroic.

“I think that she’s just kind of an unsung hero. She comes every day with all of this love, all of this passion for these boys and girls, and she cares about them on every level: emotionally, physically academically…even nutritionally,” said Bankov. “She leaves the club to pick up food in the late afternoon so that she’s sure that they have an evening meal and that nobody’s going to be going to bed hungry.”

On Debry’s time, every child’s voice is heard. She teaches them that who they are is just as important as what they learn.

“You learn and you remember all of the things that you used to do as a little boy,” Isaiah Sudduth, who attends the club, said.

Leading by example, the leader who is known as a mother to many is helping build a better future one child at a time.

“She’s just such a big part of who the children become. That goodness just pours out of her and they just can’t help but absorb some of that,” said Bankov, overwhelmed by emotion for her friend. “It’s just unusual to see someone today with so much compassion for others.”

Debry said her legacy and future will be dedicated to help young people become who she believes they can.

“I’ll do whatever it takes because I really want kids to success because they’re our future,” she said. “They’re our future. I was somebody’s future.”

WSAV News 3’s Jessica Coombs is featuring four Remarkable Women throughout March, Women’s History Month.

The finalists, chosen from nominations throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, will be featured every Tuesday on-air and online.

The winner of WSAV’s contest will be announced in April and will then be considered for the “Nexstar Woman of the Year” award.