In the span of six years, the Butterfly Effect Project has grown from a group of just eight girls to almost 400 members, spread across multiple chapters.
Just last week, executive director Tijuana Fulford welcomed the organization’s newest chapter, from the Poospatuck Reservation in Mastic.
“We’re in a lot of communities and learning as we’re growing,” she said last week.
She never imagined her dream to empower girls would grow as rapidly as it has, which has presented its share of challenges along the way. “There’s only one of me and I can’t be everywhere,” Ms. Fulford said.
And now, she doesn’t have to be.
The Butterfly Effect Project recently welcomed its first official employee, Brienne Ahearn, who joins the organization as program and development director.
Ms. Ahearn, who was born and raised on the East End, most recently worked with a community development group supporting 25 public schools on the northwest side of Chicago and has worked with immigrants and refugees around the world.
The News-Review recently spoke with Ms. Ahearn about her new role. Her answers have been edited for space and clarity.
Riverhead News-Review: How did you first hear about BEP?
Brienne Ahearn: I moved back to the area with my husband at the beginning of August and started to explore youth and community development opportunities.
I read about [BEP] and thought, “This is exactly what I want to be doing.”
Tia [Fulford] and I have the same vision of supporting youth and opening doors for them, while allowing them to walk through them independently. Access to opportunity is everything and that really spoke to me.
News-Review: You’ve worked with children and marginalized communities throughout your career. What drew you to this area of work?
BA: It’s been a theme throughout my life. I went to Cuba on service trips when I was 15 and 16 and became interested in immigrant issues and refugee issues.
We aren’t taught too many things in school about the world around us, and about oppression people faced globally and locally. That sparked my interest and was an experience that shaped my worldview. Exposing kids and showing them they can do something at such young ages to make the community and world around them better is so important.
News-Review: How do you envision your role at BEP?
BA: It’s twofold. I was brought on to ramp up fundraising, but I don’t think I can do that without being immersed in the program. I believe I can be an ambassador for the program and be able to really expand our reach.
I believe in comprehensive community development. Partnerships with local businesses, community organizations. How can we work together to make sure that we’re all thriving?
I’m only building on what’s already here. 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.
News-Review: You’re wrapping up your first week. What’s it been like to jump in?
BA: I dove into the deep end! This week was focused on our turkey basket drives to ensure all our butterflies’ families have Thanksgiving. We’re also gearing up for our Giving Tuesday campaign.
I got to meet a lot of the volunteers and work alongside them. I’m trying to meet as many people as possible. I’m still learning the ropes.
News-Review: What are you most looking forward to about being back on the East End?
BA: Saltwater. If you grow up around here, you know it’s home. I’m excited to be around my family and friends and to work with the butterflies and the greater community as well. When I met Tia it sort of felt like kismet. Helping to shepherd girls, broaden their horizons and give back to the community where I grew up … it’s exactly what I want to be doing.