Riverhead Girls Non-Profit Awarded National Grant

Gianna Volpe
The Butterfly Effect Project based in Riverhead, with satellites across Eastern Suffolk, was the only New York State recipient of the coveted State Farm Insurance Neighborhood Assist grant. Independent/Gianna Volpe

The Butterfly Effect Project plans to fly with two of three brand-new chapters following donations on September 25 of $25,000 and $17,000 from State Farm Insurance and Long Island Community Foundation, respectively.

The not-for-profit girl’s group was recently named one of the 40 agencies chosen countrywide to receive funds through State Farm Insurance’s annual Neighborhood Assist grant process. BEF is New York state’s only organization to make the top 40 cut from a pool of 200 applicants following an intense 10-day voting period, and the results were announced to an entire community packed into a basement auditorium at BEF’s first home, First Baptist Church in Riverhead.

According to the group’s website, “The Butterfly Effect Project aspires to ensure that every girl enrolled in the program has a fair chance to broaden their horizons by eliminating obstacles such as mobility, cultural differences and finances.”

Founder Tijuana Fulford accepted $42,000 on BEF’s behalf and said the funds will be used to expand programs with a new Riverhead chapter and two of the South Fork’s first in Southampton. “I can’t say yet where they locations will be,” Fulford said of the incoming chapters, but said she would make the announcement soon. BEF already has six chapters operating as far west as Bellport and as far east as East Marion on the North Fork.

In addition to funds, Fulford accepted proclamations from both Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and New York Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, as well as announced partnerships with both the Bridgehampton Child Care Center and Peconic Ballet Theater, which will now offer classes to the growing Butterfly Effect project base.

“We are so, so happy to begin our partnership with the Butterfly Effect Project,” said Christiana Bitonti of Peconic Ballet Theater. “In the spring, we’ll be doing a ballet performance where the girls will learn how to dance and they will be supplied with costumes — their ballet leotards and tights — as well as a live performance” at Stony Brook Southampton’s Avram Theater.

Hip hop and jazz classes at Bridgehampton Child Care Center along with the ballet performance add perks already plentiful within a program offering fun, support, and safe places for children and young adults throughout Eastern Long Island. Several of the youngsters interviewed, including 10-year-old Emma Dominduez from East Marion, joined BEF this year. “I’ve been on most of the field trips, the little meetings, and the games we do,” said Emma, who said she is glad she joined. “I’m making new friends,” she added with a smile.

Following the awards portion of the evening, Jens-Smith told The Independent she is proud of the work being done by Fulford and the BEF team. “I think Tia and the Butterfly Effect Project have just been wonderful,” said Jens-Smith. “I think the community of girls that they bring in and what they’ve been doing for them — promoting confidence in yourself and your ability to get out there and make your way in the world — is so essential for the kids in the community.” A similar sentiment was shared by Tonya Thomas of Long Island Community Foundation on the group’s decision to boost BEF’s $25,000 awarded by State Farm with an additional $17,000 donation.

“It’s great for the kids,” said Thomas. “We love this program, and for a long time they were doing a lot with nothing, so these are the kinds of programs we like to put our money behind and support in any we can.”

Fulford left her fulltime job this year to devote herself to the cause and said the ride has been overwhelming to say the least. “This year has been extremely hard with running the program and giving up my job,” she said. “And to see all my work — all my late nights and not coming home until 10 PM — come to fruition, I just couldn’t be more grateful.” Fulford’s dedication was clearly appreciated, and the crowd surrounding her after the main ceremony conclusion contained as many children as it did adults, both butterflies and mosquitos, which make up the young male portion of the program.

For more information on the Butterfly Effect Project visit www.bepgirls.org.

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