FOLLY BEACH — Debbie Pustorino started her Facebook page to meet people and make friends. Now she has more than 5,000 of them on “I Love Folly Beach SC.”
At first, things were really slow.
“Then it just kind of went crazy. It’s kind of blown me away,” she said.
Pustorino said she adds between 20 and 30 new members daily. They come from around the area and the world.
“I Love Folly Beach SC” is more than a popular page. It has spawned social gatherings, provided photos for the new Civic Club calendar and led to talk of a monthly potluck supper at the Community Center.
Veteran Mike Lovett, 62, of James Island, said the Facebook page has helped in his journey toward healing from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said he recently found new inner peace when the Warrior Surf Foundation introduced him to the joy of learning how to ride the waves. He’s still getting the hang of surfing, and along the way, his supporters at “I Love Folly Beach SC” have cheered him on.
“It just really tore me up that people cared. The Facebook group, they have become my support family,” he said. “I know Debbie always said she did that page for selfish reasons, but as far as I’m concerned she’s one of the heroes of my life.”
Pustorino, 58, moved here to help a friend care for his ailing father. She had visited Folly over the years and liked it, but she began to miss her home in Asheville, N.C.
“I wanted to go back,” she said.
She then met the love of her life, Jeff Ford, 54, while looking for shark teeth on the beach. The rest, as they say, is history. She decided to put her 20-year career as a counselor on hold and start a new local business, Mindful Cleaning Services.
When not cleaning vacation rentals, she oversees the Facebook page she founded in the fall of 2014. Her ground rules are pretty simple: no talk about politics or religion and, above all, be kind and supportive.
“I Love Folly Beach SC” is full of residents and visitors who share pictures and words about simple pleasures, such as an ocean sunrise or finding a big shark tooth.
Pustorino steps in now and then if things become combative on the page, but members seem to police themselves. A bit of controversy flared recently in a discussion of whether hammocks hung under the pier damage pilings. And there was a short-lived dust-up about whether it was OK to collect living starfish from tidal pools.
But, for the most part, the peace and love vibe of Pustorino’s community page sets it apart from other local Facebook pages such as “Follitics,” “Follitics 2” and “Folly Beach Politics,” which have smaller followings at nearly 2,000 members combined.
“I plan on staying here at least a few years,” she said. “It makes me feel good when I see these people getting to meet each other and communicating on here.”
Vanessa and John Oltmann of Lake Hartwell, Ga., are members of the “I Love Folly Beach SC” page. They visit the island frequently with their dog Gizmo.
“We have a place down here that we are renting for the year and hopefully longer. This is my favorite place in the world. We come here every two or three weeks,” she said.
“I Love Folly Beach SC” is like a family and it is a way to get to know people. “When I’m not here I know what’s going on,” she said.
They hope to live on Folly one day.
“I just posted a picture of me and Gizmo stopping at the Folly Beach sign. And he loves it here, too,” she said.