In a transitional area like the Grand Strand, even locals find it hard sometimes to meet people with similar interests. There are various groups people can join to strengthen their social network, and the younger generation, in particular, is taking advantage of modern technology to find people who share common pastimes.
Meetup.com provides a window of opportunity to join almost any type of group you can imagine. With a quick visit to the Internet, anyone can download an application to any iPhone or Android device to be instantly connected to Meetup.com. When it comes to groups, the sky seems to be the limit.
There are social groups and singles groups for all ages, religious groups, sports or entertainment groups. There are specialty groups that range from Sci-Fi Friends to Reptile Enthusiasts, to Vampires, Witches and Werebeasts to Myrtle Beach Humanists & Freethinkers. The site reflects the diversity of “neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something.”
Girlfriends 20s, 30s & 40s
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When 33-year-old Amber Ketchum moved to Murrells Inlet from Texas, she needed to find new friendships and realized living in a tourist area made it hard to meet locals. So, she took matters into her own hands by forming a Meetup group for women in her age range. Familiar with a global group called Girlfriends 20s, 30s & 40s, she paid the low cost to launch the group on Meetup.com in September 2013. Today, the group lists 589 members, and it is still growing.
“I started Girlfriends just for local women to find other local women to develop new friendships,” Ketchum said. “Any woman in the 20 to 40 age group at any stage of life can join. With Myrtle Beach being a tourist area, it is hard to make friends.”
“The biggest step about Meetup is getting to a meet up, just taking that first step,” said member Laura Slice, 38, of Garden City. “I was nervous. I almost didn’t go. When I did, I realized everyone is friendly and willing to talk to me.”
Slice, a retired collegiate rowing coach, said with so many members, you are guaranteed to meet different people each time you attend an event. “I can’t tell you how many people have connected through this group,” she said.
Members can be single, married, divorced, parents – it doesn’t matter. Being a member helps provide social opportunities in safe environments that, said Slice, are not “drinking centric.”
While there is a core group that volunteers to develop and host social dates, any member is welcome to toss out ideas. “It is the group’s group,” Ketchum stressed.
The membership has participated in everything from meeting for doughnuts, dinner or a movie to going clamming, something member Jill Dore, a divorced, 47-year-old retail store manager said she would have never done on her own.
“My first Meetup with this group was a trivia night at Gordon Biersch where I met Laura,” Dore said. “Then I attended a dinner at someone’s house, and I was hooked. All these girls are fabulous. There is no drama, no cattiness. My life is busy. I have three children so if I find myself kid-free, I can go on Meetup and see what [the group] is doing that night.”
For a co-ed experience, Ketchum and Slice also recently “rebranded” the Myrtle Beach Social Circle 20-40s group. At a recent joint meet-up of the two groups hosted at Bourbon Street Bar & Grill on Kings Highway, Ketchum, Slice, Dore and member Elise Carlisle, 28, of Surfside Beach shared their thoughts about what having a meet-up group means for them personally.
“I moved here at age 5 so I have lived here most of my life, but I still didn’t really have that many people I could call up to go to dinner with,” Carlisle said. “Now five nights a week since January, I can have someone to do something with if I want.”
Dore said she loves the diversity of the group and the fact it is very alive. “There is always something going on. I love the activities, and we are not bar hopping. I’ve met people whose paths I would never have crossed,” she said.
Myrtle Beach Social Circle 20-40s
Ketchum said to be a successful Meetup group, the group has to remain vibrant. She belonged to the Myrtle Beach Social Circle 20-40s when it seemed to be losing its connectivity with its membership due to a lack of activity. By taking over the group, there is more planning now for once-a-month gatherings. Its membership has grown to almost 730 members now, Ketchum said.
Since Meetups are listed online, anyone looking for a fun activity with a particular group can usually find something of interest. A good example is a man the women called “Spontaneous Joe” from Detroit. When he flew in for a visit to Myrtle Beach, he went straight to a meet-up social and spent the rest of his vacation in the area attending functions with the group.
Carlisle said when new people attend an event, it is the host of the event who takes that person under their wing to introduce them around and ensure they feel welcome. People who attend the gatherings come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
The co-ed group, said Slice, is a “friend provider,” but it is not a matchmaking or dating group.
“Things happen, but no woman or man should feel uncomfortable coming into the group,” Slice said. When it seems someone is breaching the rules, it is handled directly.
Male member Jay Kirchner moved to the Grand Strand from Buffalo, N.Y., and has belonged to the group for four months. He got involved with the group through its kickball league.
“It’s fun to meet new people. Everyone has different experiences and are from all parts of the country,” Kirchner said. Kirchner reiterated that members should not think of it as a singles group, adding, “It’s a bunch of people meeting up and having fun.”
Evan Ducker, 26, of Conway and formerly of New York, said he met his best friend through a girl who attended the group.
“It’s a good way to get out, hang out and do some fun things,” he said.
REEL Ladies Dinner & Movie Group
Finding social groups, however, is not just for the young looking to make friends. Retirees and “transplants” also can benefit from connecting with interest groups. Fran Willey and Linda Treiber host REEL Ladies Dinner & Movie Group with dinner and a movie on the third Tuesday of each month from September to June.
“We meet at The Market Common for a price-fixed meal and then a movie at Grand 14,” Willey said.
Because they meet at restaurants that work with the group on pricing, attendance is capped at 100, although the group has a database of 400. Most members are new to the area and looking for a good and safe social opportunity, Willey said.
Treiber said the most rewarding part for her is to see women who did not get out to do things before now going to lunch together and making friends.
This group, although primarily a social group, also has a charity component, raising funds for nonprofits such as Birthright of Georgetown, Help4Kids, Keep Our Pets Food Bank and New Beginnings. Each member is asked to give a $1 donation at the door to support the charity mission, but it is not mandatory.
In addition to her connection with REEL Ladies, Willey co-organized Jersey Girls of S.C. This group meets at 12:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month from September to June at Pine Lakes Country Club.
Getting out there
Regardless of age or gender, there is no reason to sit at home when you can find people with similar interests by perusing websites, such as Meetup.com, and the calendars of other groups to find meetings and social events.
While Meetup.com allows searches by distance and interest, if there is not already a group you are interested in, you can create one, Dore said.
“You’ll be guaranteed that there are people out there with the same interests as you,” she said.
ANGELA NICHOLAS is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.