Butterfly Effect Project hosts Christmas gift giveaway, receives $10K donation just in time for the holidays

Decorating cookies and warming up with hot cocoa, girls from the Butterfly Effect Project gave back to their community, helping those less fortunate than themselves. They didn’t know, however, that a surprise awaited them on Dec. 14.

As the 26 girls gathered around the table for their holiday dinner at the Jamesport Community Center, they were not expecting Forte Construction Corp. to join them. Cheers of surprise erupted as Tijuana Fulford, the organization’s founder and executive director, announced they’d be receiving a $10,000 donation from the construction group and its affiliates. 

The donation was the result of an annual  contest in which Forte Construction employees nominate their favorite charity and explain why it is meaningful to them. After hours of deliberation, one charity is selected to receive $10,000. This year, two staff members nominated the Butterfly Effect Project and made “overwhelmingly convincing” arguments as to why it should receive the donation, according to their press release. 

“We love to give back to the community,” said Forte vice president  Stephanie Hudson, . “It’s the kids that really pull on your heartstrings. [The things] these organizations do is so inspiring.” 

Members of Forte Construction presented the organization with a $10,000 check during the event. (Credit: Lilly Parnell)

The Butterfly Effect Project began in 2014 when Ms. Fulford noticed a gap in the organizations offered in schools around Riverhead. 

“I wanted to create a program for girls where they are not defined by their address or economic status,” she said. “I wanted to have a place where every girl has a fair chance and feels like they belong.” 

Since its inception, the organization has grown to 20 chapters that serve  over 500 girls (and boys) throughout Suffolk County. The elementary to high-school age group members meet on alternate Wednesdays to learn foundational skills — building confidence, practicing self-care and strengthening critical thinking —while building healthy and lifelong friendships. The Butterfly Effect Project enables girls to join step and dance teams and go to sleep-away camps in the summer. Older teens are offered career guidance workshops and college tours. 

“It’s a place where you can be yourself no matter what,” said Beylin Avilafugon, a member of the Riverhead chapter that met on Wednesday. “We all feel accepted and loved here.” 

The girls across all chapters are taught the importance of giving back. At the holiday party in Jamesport, for example, gift bags filled with hats, gloves and Sudoku puzzle books were assembled to brighten the days of those at the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood. 

“It’s important to give back to the community,” said Tiesha Trent, Riverhead chapter leader and one of the of the organization’s original volunteers. “Mental health problems are affecting both adults and children everywhere. So we want to give back to those in most need.”  

While the girls at Wednesday’s event continued eating, each was called forward to a receive large bag filled with presents. This was a part of the Butterfly Effect Project “adoption program,” which gives all participants the chance to have gifts to open on Christmas morning. 

“The child fills out a form by themselves, with no help from Mom or Dad,” said Ms. Fulford. “They give their clothing sizes and what they want for Christmas. It’s all based on what they think, want and need and we are so blessed to have so many community members help us each year.”  

This year the Butterfly Effect Program had 166 different adopters, both companies as well as families, with many adopting multiple children. If any children are not adopted, Ms. Fulford and her staff buy the remaining presents themselves. 

“Before I got the call [from Forte] that we were chosen, it seemed like every bad thing that could happen did. We were using our operational funds to pull off Christmas this year,” said Ms. Fulford. “Their donation saved us and we couldn’t thank them more.”