“We wanted them not only to have a safe place to party, but also wanted them to realize they can have the 'tween' experience and have fun while still being ladies and gentlemen," said group founder Tijuana Fulford. Photo: Courtney Blasl.

Young butterflies learned to spread their wings Saturday at Riverhead’s Senior and Human Resource Center during the Butterfly Ball, an annual bash hosted by the Butterfly Effect Project.

The party drew around 100 members of the Butterfly Effect Project, a group that was created in 2014 in an effort to provide free services to empower young women. The group has two sections — one in Bellport, and one in Riverhead — and kids from all over the island turned out to Riverhead Saturday afternoon to party.

“We try to encourage them to branch out and make friends. We hold lots of mix and match meetings between the groups,” group founder Tijuana Fulford said. “Today, we told them they’re not allowed to sit with more than three girls from their own group, the rest of their table has to be kids from the other town.”

The goal of the party is to provide a safe, chaperoned space for kids to make friends and have fun, Fulford said.

“We wanted them not only to have a safe place to party, but also wanted them to realize they can have the ‘tween’ experience and have fun while still being ladies and gentlemen.”

The kids were told to “dress to impress” and given a taste of the adult life with a “mixed drinks” station featuring non-alcoholic but cleverly named cocktails, such as the Butterfly Breeze and Caterpillar Cosmo. “We wanted it to feel like the real deal,” Fulford said.

Fulford founded the group in 2014, when she was upset to learn that some Girl Scouts were being excluded from group activities since they were unable to pay dues. She set out to create a program to empower young girls that would be totally free of charge to members.

The group began with around 10 members; today, it has more than 100, and continues to grow.

“It’s made a big difference for a lot of these girls. Even today, you can see it in the older ones who have been with us for a while and went to the ball last year. They’re not shy, they’re out there dancing with their friends and setting and example. It’s great to see.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Courtney Blasl

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Courtney is a photographer, videographer, web designer and writer. She is a lifelong Riverhead resident.