The North Fork is very much a giving place.
As much as it changes with each passing year, a sense of generosity between neighbors remains.
This holiday season, we at northforker want to pay tribute to some of the charities that have helped people in our communities live fuller lives.
This month, we’ll share the stories of these organizations and let you know how you can help them further their missions.
There comes a time when a successful nonprofit organization becomes measured less for its potential and more on the impact it has already made in a community.
For the Butterfly Effect Project, which was founded in Riverhead in 2014, that success is measured in people.
A group that started out with just eight girls from Riverhead and Flanders and aimed to empower them with tools to grow into confident and emotionally stable young women has grown exponentially in the six years since. The organization’s mission statement is “providing safe spaces for girls to dream and succeed.”
There are now 437 participants from across the five East End towns and Brookhaven and the organization primarily services girls from low-income minority households.
“I see myself in each one of the girls differently,” said BEP founder Tijuana “Ms. Tia” Fulford. “I relate to the nerdiness, the goofiness in every one of them. I’m 37 and still forcing myself to come out of my comfort zone.”
That’s ultimately what the program does for the girls. It teaches to always do better in school, to volunteer, to speak up — life skills that aren’t always instilled in children.
Fulford’s own story is well-documented. As a kid in Riverhead, she didn’t always fit in. She was poor. Her father, while present for her, was also addicted to crack-cocaine.
She found a mentor in longtime Riverhead town historian Justine Wells, who pushed her to choose hard work over self-pity.
This attitude shift helped Fulford gain confidence, enabling her to better herself and make friends. It also inspired her to start the organization to do the same thing for future generations of Riverhead girls in a similar situation.
Like all nonprofits, 2020 has been a challenging year for The Butterfly Effect Project. Five of its planned fundraisers were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization also had to absorb the loss of some of the money paid out to organize those events.
Still, Fulford, her new program and development director Brienne Ahearn and the men and women who volunteer to help out with the group have inspired the current crop of butterflies to stay active.
“We’ve pushed them to live as normal as possible at a time when that is no longer possible,” Fulford said.
AnnMarie Galasso, who has volunteered with the organization. marveled at its success and the energy of Fulford, who she calls a “one-woman army.”
“They believe success shouldn’t be dictated by where you’re born, how much money you have, your race, physical limitations or anything other than your ability and personal commitment,” Galasso said of BEP.
Ms. Ahearn, who recently began in her role, said she aims to help establish partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to see how they can “work together to make sure that we’re all thriving.”
“I’m only building on what’s already here,” she said. “Tia is amazing and has done so much. She’s so creative in developing curriculum, so I hope I can help elevate it to reach more people.”
Of course the success of BEP isn’t just measured in the volume of lives it has touched, but also in individual stories.
When we interviewed Azharia Allen five years ago, she told us about how important her “role model” Ms. Tia was in her life. Azharia was inspired by both Ms. Tia and her friend Shanysa Tems, who’s attending college on the West Coast, and still finding time to help out from 3,000 miles away.
Today, Azharia, like Shanysa before her, is the group’s head junior volunteer, a leadership position just one butterfly rises to each year. Fulford said Azharia came into the program like many teens struggling with self-esteem issues.
“It’s been amazing to see her grow to have a voice,” Fulford said.
Azharia has earned the nickname “Social Worker,” for the way she helps younger program members navigate obstacles. She’s also very much interested in social equality and human rights. The high school student is in an early childhood development program, works a part-time job at McDonald’s and still finds time to volunteer 20 hours a week with the nonprofit.
“I’ve always said I’m not a crier,” Fulford said. “When she graduates, I’m gonna cry.”
Want to help the organization?
The Butterfly Effect Project relies on community donations and there are several ways to contribute through the organization’s website, including participating in its year-end campaign. To do your part in making a difference in the lives of these young women visit bepgirls.org/donate. To volunteer email [email protected].
Correction: An earlier version of this story conflated the names of Azharia Allen and Shanysa Tems. We regret the error.