June 2021 Patch.com

Katie Goulding

AJ Sunflower Boutique in Center Moriches is a testament to one young woman's indomitable spirit and positive outlook. Born deaf, she's not only opened a boutique but is studying to be a teacher so that she can help others.

Every sunflower is unique, and yet, each one is beautiful. That's a mantra that Katie Goulding, 24, the owner of the AJ Sunflower Boutique in Center Moriches, holds close: Born deaf, she has not let anything stop her from achieving her dreams and is studying to become a teacher to help others faced with hearing loss. Goulding, who had a cochlear implant when she was two years old, reflected on the challenges: "I've never seen being deaf as a disability, but I have learned that I've had to work harder at everything than anybody else. It has not always been easy, coping," she said. She added: "School was never easy for me — I had to work 10 times harder to understand."

Rather than let obstacles defeat her, Goulding's positivity and can-do spirit shine through, and she's embarked upon an educational path that will let her help others. "Ever since I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be a teacher," she said. "But I wanted to be a teacher of the deaf. Being deaf has made me who I am today. I want to be an advocate for students who are like me. I may not have the same experience as they've had but I am able to relate and help teachers understand where they are coming from — and what modifications and accommodations they may need in order to be successful."

Goulding attended the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, where she was enrolled in the deaf education program for two years; then she headed back to New York and studied at St. Joseph's College. She has degrees in special education and general education and is working to earn her Masters degree in deaf education online. Goulding said she was inspired to create her shop after graduating from college. "I wanted to do something different," she said.

Originally her business was born online, when she received a $500 starter kit from the Amelia James clothing line. With her trademark enthusiasm, Goulding held Facebook Live shopping events and grew her Facebook group to more than 2,000 members. In addition, she said, "I would bring all the stuff that I had in my bedroom to private parties and would set up racks in people's homes."

But one day, walking on Main Street in Center Moriches, Goulding's next chapter unfolded. "I knew the woman who previously had the store before me. I had come in one day with my best friend; we took a walk on Main Street and we decided to go in and say hi. We talked and she offered for me to put a rack in the shop. I was so excited and then, I realised maybe I wanted a store.” Later, the previous owner of the business decided to move on, and Goulding knew she had found her brick-and-mortar space two years ago. "I knew when I walked into the store it would be perfect. It just felt right and I could envision the whole store. The way it is today is exactly how I saw it when I walked in. I knew I wanted a long barn table — and I actually bought that table before I signed the lease," she said. Because she was so young when she first found the shop, just 21, Goulding had to speak to the landlord, to see if she would rent to her. "She said 'yes' and approved the rental after we met. This was all fate — everything happens for a reason," Goulding said.

Her business, located at 380 Main Street in Center Moriches, is the realisation of a dream, Goulding said. "My shop is a reflection of what I love and who I am. We sell women's clothing and a variety of boutique clothes," she said. The shop also carries a selection of Long-Island themed and created clothing. " It is so important to me to carry local clothing because people are so proud to be from Long Island. I wear Long Island myself all the time," Goulding said.

She carries a section of mens' clothing made by local people on Long Island, including Carleton Clothing, and Lifestyle Fishing Company, which she created with her brother. The boutique also carries Z-Supply, Elan, Vintage Havana, Lovestruck By Two, Simply Made Greetings, and Homemade Market, among other lines. Center Moriches, she said, was the perfect location for her new business. "It's so community-oriented, and I am so proud of that," Goulding said. "I am so proud to be a part of it.” Center Moriches is also growing, she added. "There were very few shops on Main Street when we opened and there is so much to the area now."

Goulding hopes to also give back through her business. "Giving back to the community is huge for us — we try to give back in different ways. We started doing 'Shop For a Cause' to bring people in and give people a way to raise money for different events.” In addition, Goulding has hosted events for the Center Moriches drama club and Pat-Med cheerleading team, with upcoming events for the Riverhead boys' lacrosse booster team and for Camp Paquatuk. Also planned are fundraisers with after-hours shopping from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., to benefit various causes; people are also able to shop online during the fundraising events.

Words of advice have fueled Goulding's fervor for following her dreams, she said: "My mom has said to me, 'Are you going to regret not doing this more?' After I consulted with my dad and my uncle he told me that every day in business is a risk and you have to be willing to take that risk. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason and I forever encourage people to chase their dreams. I always say timing is everything."

Were she to meet another person faced with the same challenges who may seem daunted, Goulding said she would offer words of insight. "I have met many people along my journey of being a boutique owner. I often have people that turn to me and say, 'How did you become so successful? What did you do?' I am always, constantly working, whether it's answering emails, messages, shopping, traveling, getting new inventory. Everything and anything you want to do in life is challenging; nothing comes easy. You have to be willing to put in the hard work and dedication. Chase your dreams. I believe I got this store and it led me to so many opportunities. I have developed many relationships with people, including my customers, who have become my friends or like family."

Although the transition from online to brick-and-mortar was a different experience, because she was no longer talking to a camera, Goulding said the Center Moriches community has "been amazing" and welcomed her with open arms. "I remember coming in the morning very early and cleaning the windows and everyone walking their dogs asking me, What is going in here?' I told them that I was opening a clothing boutique and they were all so happy and wished me all the best. We weren't open yet — we were still getting everything ready — and a woman came in and asked if she could look around and shop. It is just such an amazing feeling to have people who walk through the door and shop local – whether they buy something or not."

The pandemic derailed her plans for months, however, Goulding said. She opened in August, 2019, only to shutter in March. But she pivoted and was able to keep the business alive online until in-person shopping could resume again. "It's been crazy. I look at this and say: 'We just overcame a pandemic. We can get through anything.’" Being born deaf has shaped her outlook, Goulding said: "Everyone is different. Like each individual sunflower, one may not have as many petals, but every one is unique.: Despite the challenges, Goulding looks ahead with optimism. "Life is messy, it can be crazy. So just enjoy everything you can and take it all in."

As for teaching, Goulding has always wanted to give back. She had a teacher of the deaf help her from kindergarten through high school and now, she wants to be that advocate for other children.

Her message for her students is one of hope: "You can do anything if you put your mind to it but your heart and soul have to be 100 percent into it. Nothing comes easy and that's for anything. Nothing was handed to me. I had to work twice as hard."

Goulding, who lives in Shirley and attended the William Floyd School District, said she was mainstreamed, and "amazing" teachers helped to guide her path. For others who have hearing loss, she added: "It's okay to ask for help," she said. "There's nothing wrong with saying, 'I didn't hear that.' I had to learn to advocate for myself.” Both her teacher of the deaf and her mother instilled those advocacy skills, she said.

Goulding has begun to write about her experiences. "It has been a dream to write a book about my journey. It makes me who I am and I am so proud of how far I've come.” Goulding wants to write the book not just for those with hearing loss but for families considering cochlear implants. "I want to let them know that it's okay, that whatever you choose is what works for you and your family."

She's already decided on a title for her book, Goulding said, "The Sky is Crying." The words hold great meaning: "When I was little, I was in a car with my mom. I was in the backseat, right before my cochlear implant surgery, and I signed the words 'The Sky is Crying' because it was raining. It was the first time I'd used sign language in a sentence — and she saw it in the rear-view mirror."

Goulding said she would not be where she is without her parents, she said.

Just as a sunflower faces upward to the sun, Goulding is focused on her bright future. "I am most excited about seeing the business grow — about the balance of being a teacher and being a business owner — and continuing this journey," she said.

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