Story by Sara Paul
When 15-year-old Lian Walker shares her selfless experiences as an outreach volunteer in Harlan, KY, tears quickly flood her kind, brown eyes. Lian is barely audible and completely choked up as she remembers how the experience left her with truly moving memories. The nine-day trip with the Capuchin Appalachian Mission also solidified the young girl’s aspirations to pursue a life of service to her community and her country.
It was an uncomfortably hot July and Lian had spent 17 hours in a car en route to one of the poorest cities in America. Though weary and famished herself from exhaustive traveling and bathing options limited to muddy lakes, the determined teen was up to the task of helping to distribute clothes to those in need; people who were grateful, welcoming and warm.
It was in Harlan at the Horizon Adult Day Center where Lian met a very special older woman named Dorothy. Soon the two were chatting like old friends and even singing Amazing Grace. What happened next was the stuff of Hallmark films.
“She gave me this big hug, and at that moment I felt like she was my grandmother. I’ve never felt so accepted and loved and that’s the reason why I volunteer. It’s like building a home away from home,” tells Lian, whose own grandmother passed away before she was born.
The Warwick Valley High School (WVHS) sophomore tore through several saturated tissues full of tears as she tried to continue the vivid, emotional details of the charitable endeavor.
“This community was struggling, but it was stronger than any community I’ve ever seen,” said the Warwick resident.
Lian explained that for her, “Volunteer work builds a base of understanding of how to help everyone, and I want to make sure I have an understanding of who people are and how they interact. I really like listening and talking to people.”
Lian, who is the recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Gold Award for the past four years and the Attorney General’s Triple C Award (Courage, Character, Commitment) says her goal is, “that every girl or boy, big or small, become the role model and hero that they were born to be. I hope that as a community, we can help them accomplish that goal.”
Born in Hunan, China, Lian also runs a group called “The China Club” for people who were adopted from China. Lian’s mother, Jean, adopted her when she was 16 months of age, and years later adopted 10-month-old Talia, also from Hunan.
With volunteerism and leadership at the top of the teen’s never-ending list of priorities, there is much more on her plate of passions. Lian’s huge heart also extends to her favorite pastime. The young golfer has learned much about life, friendship, and self-reflection from her more than five years practicing the sport. Interestingly, it was not her best, but her worst matches that provided a positive perspective for Lian.
“My favorite match was when one of my teammates had her club head fly into the woods. A bunch of us spent 15 minutes looking for it and we were hysterical laughing. We didn’t shoot the best game ever, but it showed me how to be a good person on the course. I always think about them laughing,” smiles Lian, who also learned much from her worst match ever.
“I had just shot a double par, so I had my hands in my pockets and my head down. It was rainy and when my bag got stuck in the gate I was walking through, I just threw my bag down. I quickly realized I didn’t want to be like that,” Lian recalls.
“Anger makes you feel heavy, and that bag sure wasn’t helping,” she chuckles, adding, “I’d rather be the person walking and smiling with friends.”
The talented young golfer was recently named to the first ever Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Girls Golf Leaders Board of Directors.
Lian, who is Director of Site Growth, was one of only six girls chosen nationally for the one-year term.
Lian has been a serious golfer for about five years – since she took her first lesson at Hickory Hill Golf Course in Warwick, where she still plays, while now also regularly hitting the greens at the Warwick Valley Country Club. She was first inspired by her Hickory Hill instructor, Vinnie Marotta, who encouraged her and bestowed upon her a lucky glove she still uses today.
Now one of the youngest players on the WVHS varsity golf team, Lian is inspired by her coach, John Van Pelt.
“He made me feel a different way about golf and taught me to love the game,” said Lian, who also trains under her instructional coach, Lee Ferrec, at the Warwick Country Club, where she also assists with golf summer clinics.
She is also on the Hudson Valley Junior Golf League, enjoying the comradery as much as the game.
“The girls golf world is small, and I have made such good friends that I keep in touch with,” she said.
Her mom, Jean, originally sought out non-traditional, non-after school sports like golf since her rigorous, full-time work schedule was limiting for other activities. She is happy and proud that her daughter has found such joy on the golf course.
“Kids learn confidence through this because there is so much on them. They have to take charge and can’t blame other teammates if something goes wrong. They have to take responsibility,” notes Jean, also lauding that Lian will receive a black belt next year from the Pace Institute of Karate in Vernon, NJ.
Lian also runs cross country and indoor track and her impressive involvements include the Warwick High School Model UN and Debate Teams; St Stephen’s Agape Youth Group Community Service, where she is also a parishioner; the Warwick Youth Advisory Board; and the Capuchin Youth Ministries in Garrison, NY.
In her next school year as a junior, she hopes to finish her college applications and be ready to apply to college in her senior year. She plans to attend a school with a strong engineering program and an ROTC affiliation within a five hour radius, so she shan’t be too far from her family, which includes her beloved, fluffy roommates: Frida, a 12-year-old Labradoodle, and Alex, a three-year-old Shih Tzu.
The bold young heroine urges, “Reach out, and don’t be afraid to get yourself out there and make connections. In a way, mimic your role model’s way of life. Do what they do, live your life with goals like theirs, just add some of your own personality to it to make it yours.”
The Warwick Valley Dispatch would like to feature young people of Warwick who are doing meaningful things. Whether in school, athletics, in the community or at home, we know there are many moving stories that need to be told.
These “hero” stories can be from the incredible to the mundane, from the kid who saved his dog from drowning to the teen who takes care of a sibling with special needs. We ask that if you know of any young individuals who would be appropriate for these human interest pieces, that you contact Sara Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-702-3091.