In the basement of the Riverhead Free Library last Wednesday, 13 girls learned about making friends, decision-making skills and nail care.
The group also discussed making Easter baskets and donating them to the Salvation Army and to children living at the Roanoke Avenue homeless shelter.
The meeting’s organizer, Riverhead native Tijuana Fulford, is a former Girl Scout. She was taken under the wing of now-retired Riverhead Town Historian Justine Wells nearly 20 years ago and learned lessons about self confidence, living life to its fullest and staying out of trouble.
Ms. Fulford, 30, an office manager at East End Rheumatology in Riverhead, has created a program called The Butterfly Effect Project to share everything she’s learned with local children who are less fortunate and can’t afford traditional programs, like Girl Scouts. The mother of three is offering the program free of charge, ensuring girls growing up in similar situations won’t miss out on opportunities to better their lives.
“I don’t care if your shoes cost $100 or $1,” she said. “You’re somebody. We are all the same in this room.”
Funds for The Butterfly Effect Project are raised through donations. The volunteer-based organization aims to empower young girls to make good decisions in school and at home while eliminating obstacles like cultural differences and finances, she said.
Ms. Fulford’s two daughters, Alexandria, 6, and Genesis, 5, are also in the program. Like their mother, they were Girl Scouts until about four months ago.
Though Ms. Fulford said she enjoyed Girl Scouts, she decided in December to take her children out of the program after noticing a couple of children couldn’t participate in Badge Night because their families hadn’t paid their dues.
Feeling left out because of your family’s financial situation is a scenario all too familiar to Ms. Fulford, who grew up with four siblings and a father addicted to crack cocaine.
Through Ms. Wells’ teachings about choosing hard work over self-pity, Ms. Fulford said she later gained the confidence to better herself and make friends.
One of them was Tonya Miles, a Riverhead mother whose 9-year-old daughter, Janiyla, is also a member of the new program.
“Her popularity was a 10 in high school and mine was a negative 7,” Ms. Fulford recalled of Ms. Miles. “She taught me how to do my hair and makeup. She helped me out a lot and I love her for that.”
Ms. Fulford was on the phone with Ms. Miles for two hours before she came up with the name “The Butterfly Effect Project.”
“I love butterflies,” Ms. Fulford said. “They start off as ugly caterpillars and turn into beautiful butterflies — just like what happened to me.”
Ms. Fulford said local professionals are invited to each meeting to teach the group a fun skill and to discuss their career or life experiences.
Last Wednesday, Kiki Arvidsson of East Moriches gave each girl a manicure and discussed why she’s studying cosmetology.
“I was in college and decided it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I like helping people feel good about themselves.”
Another component to the group’s meetings are anti-bullying teachings.
Ms. Fulford has taught the girls things like compassion for others who don’t have any friends.
“If you see a girl is different, are you going to be mean to her or be her friend?” Ms. Fulford asked.
“I would be her friend because she might be lonely and not have any friends,” said Amaryana James, 9.
Her cousin, Zonura Williams, also 9, agreed. She reflected about why she thinks the group is important while having her nails painted blue and pink.
“It’s fun. We learn how to do more things and make new friends,” she said. “New friends and having fun.”
Ms. Fulford later gave each girl a pink watch with rhinestones that had the word “Paris” stamped above a glittery silver image of the Eiffel Tower.
“When you do good, good things happen,” she said as she handed out the watches. “You can choose to be mean or you can choose to be her friend. This will help remind you to make good decisions.”
The group will participate in the annual outdoor Easter egg hunt fundraiser April 19 between 1 and 3 p.m. at the Hamptons United Methodist Church in Southampton, where they’ll sell crafts and cupcakes to benefit The Butterfly Effect Project.
Ms. Fulford said she’s looking for volunteers to help with transportation to and from the meetings, as well as field trips, and guest speakers to discuss their careers and life skills. In order to motivate the girls to do well in school, Ms. Fulford gives each student raffle tickets and prizes for completing homework.
The group’s volunteer organizers include Ms. Miles, along with Ms. Fulford co-workers Nancy Arvidsson and Sharae James. Other helpers include parents Tanya Collins and Mekeshia Kimbrough.
“I wanted to do this when I was younger,” Ms. Kimbrough said of the program. “Through this, I’m reliving my childhood.”