Butterfly Effect Project founder and executive director Tjuana Fulford in the organization's new office. Photo: Denise Civiletti

In the four years of its existence, the Butterfly Effect Project has undergone a metamorphosis of its own.

The group, founded by Riverhead native Tjuana Fulford in 2014 to give girls from underserved communities an opportunity for positive social interactions and mentorship, started with just a handful of girls. It has blossomed to more than 200 kids and has spread its own wings to provide services to assist entire families.

Along the way, the Butterfly Effect Project was organized as a not-for-profit corporation and obtained tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization. Fulford recruited volunteers for the organization’s board of directors and a number of other volunteers to help with meetings, field trips, events and administrative duties.

The organization searched in vain for affordable office space and found a temporary home in space donated for six months by JABS, a gym that opened on Route 58 last fall.

Now the Butterfly Effect Project has a permanent home. First Baptist Church of Riverhead has donated a spacious office to the group.

A large room on the lower level of the Northville Turnpike church, the new office has been outfitted with donated services, materials and furniture. Fulford is still unpacking boxes and getting settled in — all while preparing for the third annual “Butterfly Ball” set for April 14 and organizing a bus trip to Island 16 this Saturday where the girls will see “Black Panther.” A donor chartered the bus and rented the theater, she said.

“Rev. Liggon told me we will have a home here as long as our church’s doors are open,” Fulford said today, referring to the First Baptist’s associate pastor. “The generosity of the church trustees is amazing. This is such a welcoming and supportive community.”

Almost on cue, Shirley Coverdale, wife of Senior Pastor Charles Coverdale and executive director of the Family Community Life Center, appears in the doorway with a plate of cookies. Other church members stop in to say hello, too.

Tjuana Fulford, Carmecha Langhorne and Karen McDonald with T-shirts donated by Ron Fisher of Fisher Signs & Shirts. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Fulford, 34, and the mother of three, took a big leap of faith last summer when she quit a full-time job to devote herself to the organization. She has yet to draw a salary, with her family relying on her husband Troy’s income to get by.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Fulford said of her decision to quit her job in a medical office. But being able to focus on the Butterfly Effect Project has made all the difference, she said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished since August.”

Board member Karen McDonald said today the group needs to be able to pay its executive director in order to survive and continue to thrive. The need to have Fulford at the helm on a full-time basis is readily apparent, McDonald said, but Fulford can’t afford to work without pay indefinitely.

The Butterfly Effect Project was recognized in October by the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission with the 2017 Human Rights Community-Based Organization Award. 

The organization and Fulford were also recognized on the floor of the House of Representatives by Rep. Lee Zeldin in February for “invaluable service to our community.”

The Butterfly Effect Project is hosting a “soft opening” of the new office space on Friday, April 13 from 10 a.m. to noon. The group will also be celebrating its 200th butterfly.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.