Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘Instead of focusing on what the girls can bring to the table, we focus on what we are bringing to the girls.’

Mastic Beach

“Growing up, we had our challenges in a very impoverished area in Riverhead. There were a lot of core values that we didn’t have time to learn, and I didn’t realize how much that played a part in my decision-making process as an adult. When I was 10, I joined Girl Scouts. I didn’t have any transportation or a fair opportunity to earn badges or go on trips because I couldn’t afford to, and because of this, I was a target for bullying. The leaders didn’t understand that I was having a really hard time at home. They didn’t believe I didn’t have a dollar for dues. I had to walk to the meetings, and by the time I got there, I was late and sweaty, and that wasn’t well received by the leaders or the girls. It made me feel inferior growing up. Then life happens and you assume you forgot these things.

“I put my daughter in Girl Scouts. I made sure she did everything they offered. She was earning badges, but then she didn’t do the work, and the leader said she could have them anyway because I paid for them. It really broke something in me and ripped off a Band-Aid because all that time, I had thought I wasn’t good enough to earn badges as a child, but it was just that I couldn’t afford them. It healed that old hurt inside of me. Then I noticed three Hispanic girls sitting alone, and my daughter mentioned they were always late and that no one talked to them. It was the defining moment — that my little angel was being raised with the very thing that ruined my childhood.

“I decided to start my own group. In 2014, I had my first meeting of the Butterfly Effect Project with eight girls at the very library I used to go to for Girl Scouts. The name has a dual meaning for me. I love butterflies. I have never seen two butterflies that look identical. But for me, it’s also reflecting my life that there was a time I thought I was this really ugly caterpillar, and then I had this awakening that started happening in my mind first that evolved to the outside. I felt like I was telling my girls that we are all perfectly imperfect creatures. The butterfly represents the constant changing of you and the appreciation of what that change looked like and that hard caterpillar stage that we go through.”

If I could talk to my 11-year-old self, I would tell her, don’t be afraid to open new doors and walk through them, that help is always on the way.

“We went from eight girls to now about 600-plus, and one chapter to about 20 across the East End, and we have a pilot boys chapter this year. Participants have the option of attending chapter meetings in Riverhead, Bellport, Northville, Flanders and Aquebogue every other week throughout the school year. We are focused on four key areas: healthy relationship development, self-care, confidence building and critical thinking. We have parents in each community who know that community running that chapter. They know what the needs are for the girls, and that’s really important. Instead of focusing on what the girls can bring to the table, we focus on what we are bringing to the girls. What opportunities can we give them to broaden their horizons? And what they need in each chapter may be different.

“We do a lot of community service. They learn life skills like how to sew, how to be respectful, how to set a table, how to agree to disagree. They learn about politics and the power of their voice. We don’’t have badges; we have shirt colors. There are no dues. We’’ll have a room of maybe 30 girls ranging from 6 to 18. When people say to me, what do you think [is] the best thing that you’re doing for the girls and for the people in the program, I say I’m allowing them to be on the same playing field with everyone else. I’m allowing them the opportunity to see themselves bigger and better than their environment they’re in. I’m allowing them to understand, accept, respect where they come from, understanding that that’s really just your launchpad. I’m creating synergy in our community.

“In 2017, I quit my job and decided to do this full time, and it was hard, but a lot of people in the community stepped up in ways I would never have envisioned to make this a reality. There were times where I sat at home in tears trying to figure out how we’re going to get to the next month. And even now we still struggle. If I could talk to my 11-year-old self, I would tell her, don’t be afraid to open new doors and walk through them, that help is always on the way, and that mankind, regardless of what we see in our direct situations, there’s always someone who has one purpose and that is to help you out.”

Interviewed by Liza Burby