The Butterfly Effect Project (BEP) is a nonprofit, community-oriented organization started by Tijuana Fulford. It was Tijuana’s goal to start a program that would empower young girls by giving them the tools to achieve emotionally stable and self-confident futures, in hopes of bringing forth a generation of women who are strong, independent, and knowledgeable. 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. BEP creates safe spaces for youth to dream and succeed in both in-school and out-of-school chapters and serves over 500 youth across the East End. The core focuses of the curriculum are healthy relationship building, critical thinking, self-care, and confidence-building. In addition, BEP offers supplemental programming, such as an intergenerational garden club, dance squads, and job readiness class, as well as access to a wide variety of cultural experiences and opportunities.
As with many organizations and communities, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on BEP, its families and communities. BEP meetings and events that provide the Butterflies purpose, structure, and joy were all canceled or went virtual. Thousands of dollars of donations were lost due to the forced cancellation of all annual fundraisers. Many participants struggled to do remote learning and lacked the devices to even log on. Thousands of people in the BEP communities, including Butterfly families, struggled to make ends meet and put food on the table. Community members fell ill with coronavirus, some were hospitalized, others lacked the health care to seek medical help, and a few even lost their lives. Others, forced to stay home, lived in unsafe conditions.
BEP maintained regular programming virtually as best they could, offering fun activities to do from home, such as baking, arts and crafts, and games. They delivered materials to participant homes when necessary. They also regularly checked in with all the Butterflies and families through phone calls to see how they were doing, and to find out their needs. They responded by hosting drives, and assembling masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other PPE for Butterflies, their families, and community members to make sure they were protected. BEP secured 35 devices for Butterflies to log onto remote learning, 21 of which were donated generously from the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce. BEP also partnered with Open Arms Food Pantry to collect, assemble, and deliver food throughout the community. During the height of the pandemic BEP served over 3,700 people 192,000 lbs of food, and drove over 125 miles to deliver it to those at risk or quarantined. BEP also launched an intergenerational community garden during the pandemic in order to connect safely outside with Butterflies and community members, grow food for the food insecure, and teach the youth healthy and sustainable habits.