Butterfly Effect Project founder Tia Fulford with some of the 220-plus children who participate in the group Tuesday afternoon at First Baptist Church of Riverhead. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Butterfly Effect Project won a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant.

The Riverhead-based organization was one of 40 organizations chosen through an online voting competition from among 200 finalists nationwide. The finalists were chosen by the State Farm Neighborhood Assist review committee from a pool of 2,000 applicants. State Farm announced the names of the 40 winners today.

The Butterfly Effect Project invited supporters to a “reveal” party Tuesday afternoon at First Baptist Church of Riverhead. The organization knew it was in the running because on the last day of public voting it was in 19th place. Voting continued after the standings were no longer visible to the public, so no one knew which groups were in the top 40 until today.

Family members, friends and members of the group gathered around founder Tia Fulford yesterday afternoon in the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church to celebrate the grant award.

State Farm agents Ed Graves of Riverhead, Kathleen Handley of Manorville and James Grossi of Southampton presented Fulford with a giant $25,000 check.

The Butterfly Effect Project was the only winner from N.Y. State, Graves said, noting that more than 167,000 people cast nearly 4.5 million votes.

“It is extremely important for our youth to have the tools necessary to become successful adults,” Graves said. “Fortunately, the people at the Butterfly Effect Project understand the challenges faced by girls in this area and they are empowering girls to be emotionally stable, self-confident and prepared for the future.”

Fulford thanked Graves and State Farm for the support.

“You’ve given us a huge opportunity,” she said. “Thank you for giving so many organizations like ours a voice and a fighting chance and a way to give back to the community.”

The group’s coffers were soon expanded by another $17,000, from the L.I. Community Foundation, presented by Tonya Thomas.

“We’re so excited to have partnered with this organization because the Butterfly Effect Project has enabled young girls to build self-esteem, participate in community activities, develop a support network and learn leadership skills,” Thomas said.

Fulford urged the community to get involved. “Help me help them win,” she said. “Because when they win, we win. If we can just take the best part of ourselves and pour it into our youth, then we will have the best part of America right here in Riverhead.”

Christiana Bitonti of Peconic Ballet Theatre is one example of a community member who has stepped up to help BEP spread its wings. The theater company tonight announced a partnership with the Butterfly Effect that will provide 10 weeks of dance lessons culminating in a performance next spring.

“This year has been a whirlwind of doors opening,” Fulford said.

Founded in 2012 with a group of eight kids, the organization has grown to serve more than 220 youths. But its mission, to empower children in underserved communities and give them an opportunity to grow and develop and find their way in the world at large, hasn’t changed.

The girls served by the organization couldn’t be happier. And for them, the joy they get out of participating in the group goes way beyond just getting together for fun times — or even the opportunity for self-improvement.

When asked what she likes best about the group, Ashlynn Williams, 11, of Selden said: “We do a lot of great things to help others.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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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.