Life with Gracie: There are millions and millions of Facebook groups; why this local one stood out 

A full year after her son Nelson graduated from The Citadel, Dorie Griggs was still getting telephone calls and email from parents of incoming Knobs.

Griggs had spent years blogging about her experiences as a Citadel mom and had become a trusted adviser about all things Citadel. What items should cadets bring with them? What’s the difference between men’s briefs and jockeys? How to empower their cadet to make their own decisions?

Her experience coupled with her religious training, she felt uniquely qualified to be a “non-anxious” presence in their lives.

And so when the questions kept coming, Griggs, a chaplain by trade, launched the first Facebook group for parents of freshmen entering The Citadel, a virtual community of about 500 parents, alumni and other relatives.

The Citadel: Parents of the Class of 2016 and subsequent years became a safe place for newbies to get their questions answered.

“I never expected it to last this long,” Griggs said the other day.

Nor did she ever expect she’d be flying off to Chicago to participate in Mark Zuckerberg’s first Facebook Communities Summit, which opens today (June 22) in Chicago.

“I was shocked,” she said.

Alex Deve, Facebook’s product director, announced plans to hold the summit in April. The social media site wanted to celebrate folks like Griggs who are forming and strengthening communities through Facebook groups and provide an opportunity for them to gather in one place, share and connect in real life.

“Whether connecting with other fishermen in your town to share tips, organizing a get-together for new parents in your neighborhood or finding others dealing with the same medical condition, people use Facebook groups to connect in personal, practical and powerful ways,” Deve wrote. “No matter your interests or personal circumstance, there’s probably a group out there for you.”

In fact, he wrote, there are tens of millions of active groups on Facebook, and every one of them exists because of the passion and dedication of the group admins who lead these communities.

In February, Griggs, a Roswell mother of three, got a message request from a guy named Kyle saying he was with Facebook.

Griggs figured she was being spammed but decided to Google this Kyle and found him on LinkedIn. Sure enough, Kyle was with Facebook.

The two were soon on the phone talking about The Citadel Facebook group. When did it start? How did it start? What things happened in real life that started with her Facebook group?

Griggs told him about starting a fund after learning a cadet had been diagnosed with cancer and raising some $20,000 to help defray his medical bills.

“I met him at graduation,” she said. “He graduated on time and he’s cancer free.”

On another occasion, Griggs told him, she’d developed a friendship with a young man from Waverly Hall, Ga. As his graduation approached, she knew he’d have a hard time purchasing the ring he’d earned, and posted that she wanted to help him. The group’s members responded, and within two weeks, she raised enough to pay for the $1,000 gold ring and had money left over to help pay for a second cadet’s ring.

Kyle thanked her for her time and a few weeks later sent another private message asking for Griggs’ email address. He then followed up with an invitation to apply for the 2017 Facebook Communities Summit, part of the company’s goal to bring people closer together and build common understanding.

It was part of a manifesto Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, published earlier this year that outlined how he saw the social media site’s mission to create a social infrastructure for the world and echoed in his commencement speech to Harvard grads back in May.

RELATED: Zuckerberg urges Harvard grads to build a world of ‘purpose’

Griggs followed up but understood her chances were slim for an invite to the summit.

“There are literally millions of Facebook groups,” she said. “The chance of my getting invited was pretty small.”

But on May 2, Griggs received a third email, congratulating her for being selected.

“I was sitting right over there,” she said, pointing to a living room sofa from her kitchen. “I thought oh my gosh.”

She Googled 2017 Facebook Communities Summit, and that’s when she found Zuckerberg’s manifesto on building community.

“What struck me was a lot of what he was talking about was what was happening in my group,” she said. “Things like building friendships and going from an online virtual world to actual face-to-face interactions.”

Griggs had seen that manifest itself a lot. She recalled the night a cadet was in a car accident. When his parents couldn’t get a flight out of Tennessee to be at his bedside, three South Carolina moms rushed to the hospital while the couple drove through the night.

She was honored to be included. When she learned Zuckerberg himself would be there to address the group administrators, she was doubly honored.

“This was a really big thing,” she said. “There are things you can plan and then there are things that come to you as gifts from God. This was one of them.”

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