Suffolk honors Butterfly Effect Project for human rights efforts

When Tijuana Fulford gets a call from an unknown number she usually doesn’t pick up. But when an unknown number called her a few months ago, she broke her “golden rule” and answered.

Turns out that was a good decision because the caller told her that the nonprofit Butterfly Effect Project, which she founded, had been named the Human Rights Community-Based Organization of the Year by Suffolk County.

“It’s a really big honor,” Ms. Fulford said. “It’s given once every two years and I’m pretty sure there are hundreds of deserving organizations. So for The Butterfly Effect Project to be chosen, to me was just everything.”

Created in 1963 to enforce various laws against discrimination, the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission is honoring a total of five people and organizations working toward the shared goal of “elimination of bias and discrimination in Suffolk County,” its website reads.

The Butterfly Effect Project, which was founded in March 2014 and received nonprofit status in August 2015, is a free program designed to empower young girls.

Currently 108 girls strong, the charitable organization holds weekly meetings on Wednesdays to help girls become confident through numerous avenues with the goal of creating a generation of strong, independent and knowledgeable women. Meetings are held in Riverhead twice a month and in Bellport twice a month.

The Butterfly Effect Project offers programs to girls and families in Riverhead, Flanders, Calverton, Mastic, Shirley, Bellport, Westhampton, Peconic, Patchogue and West Islip.

“The Butterfly Effect project, it means the world to me,” Ms. Fulford said. “It means cultivating our future leaders … and bringing awareness to all different projects that happen. The girls can express it and learn from it and build from one another.”

The Butterfly Effect Project was nominated for the award by Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski.

Ms. Fulford said she met Mr. Krupski a few months ago when she set up a meeting to explain what the organization does and look for a way to receive funding.

Much of the work Ms. Fulford does, which includes buying gifts for every single girl in the organization around the holidays, is paid for from donations or out of her own pocket, she said.

Mr. Krupski said that when his office was asked to nominate an organization to be recognized as this year’s Human Rights Community-Based Organization of the Year, Ms. Fulford’s nonprofit was at the top of the list of worthy organizations.

“We were really impressed with the work they do,” he said. “She’s really empowering young girls and helping to give them some life skills they can use … Even basic things like cooking with the girls, they’re empowering people and showing that they can do things on their own. Young girls from difficult situations, [Ms. Fulford] wants to make them independent and confident. That’s what this program is aimed at.”

Ms. Fulford, who was named the Riverhead News-Review’s 2016 Person of the Year, will accept the award on behalf of The Butterfly Effect Project on Oct. 18.

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File photo: Tijuana Fulford, founder of The Butterfly Effect Project, hands out gifts last December at the Riverhead Town Senior Center in Aquebogue. (Credit: Krysten Massa)