Your Gifts at Work Student Stories
Impact that Resonates
The Right Gift at the Right Time
Kim Leyva started classes her first year at Westmont and then faced an unexpected crisis: "Your account is past due."
She couldn’t believe her eyes. Was it true? Kim Leyva, known as Kimmy, had started her first semester at Westmont weeks earlier. She read the email with alarm. “Your account is past due by $5,000.”
Kim had longed for the Christian community at Westmont throughout high school. Getting accepted and enrolling had been so exciting. But suddenly her dream was ending before it had barely begun.
Despite her generous financial aid package, she faced the reality of a shortfall that day. “I remember sitting in my dorm room wondering, ‘What am I going to do?’”
Kim had experienced significant challenges before.
Born in the United States to a pastor/missionary father and a devoted mother, Kim moved with her family to Mexico at a young age. Her parents returned to their hometown to share the gospel with family and friends.
At the age of 11, Kim went back to the United States to live with her aunt. She started sixth grade without knowing a single word of English and reached fluency in a year. “I’m going to be a teacher, and I know how much there is to teach,” she thought. “I don’t know how I learned so quickly.”
Just as she put all her efforts into learning English, Kim tried everything she could think of to stay at Westmont. She pursued jobs and tried to secure more student loans. “I was also applying to other colleges.” She knew she needed to look elsewhere and say goodbye to Westmont, her dream school.
At Westmont, community shapes your life.
In the midst of this challenging season, Kim found comfort in the love and support of her friends. “I always wanted to belong to a Christian community with people who asked, ‘How is your heart? How are you doing today?’” The friends she’d been waiting so long to find sat on her bed and wept with her.
She made a difficult decision and told Sean Smith, director of financial aid, that she had to leave Westmont. He remembers that day. “I cried with her, prayed with her, and then sadly watched her walk out of my office.”
A donor steps into the gap.
A few days after meeting with Kim, Sean received a call from a donor who was committed to Westmont and wanted to fund a scholarship for an earnest, hard-working student who needed help. Sean realized it was just the right gift at just the right time.
Kim remembers getting the call from Sean. “Can you come by my office for five minutes?” He remembers it too. “Telling Kim about the scholarship that allowed her to stay at Westmont was one of the most satisfying moments of my career.”
Kim could hardly believe the answer to her hopes and prayers. “I remember crying all the way to class. I called my dad on the way, and I told him I could stay. We cried together.”
Because of the generosity of donors, Kim stayed and pursued her dreams at Westmont. Through persistent hard work, she completed her degree in three and a half years. This spring she will earn her elementary teaching credential. When she graduates in May, she’ll be ready to start her career in education immediately.
By supporting Westmont, you help change the world by preparing students to serve and lead in all spheres of society. You transform lives like Kim’s.
Open Doors & Change Lives
Lydia was born in China, but no record of her birth exists. Found under a bridge and taken to an orphanage, she remained there until a courageous single woman rescued her and filled her life with hope.
Suellen Grenko, an American English/ESL teacher in her 50s, heard about the one-child policy in China creating a crisis of abandoned baby girls and felt called to act. She adopted Lydia when she was about 20 months old, brought her to the United States, and raised her in Northern California.
Suellen worked multiple jobs to support her family of two. She shared her love of books with her daughter and provided violin lessons. Together they dreamed of college but knew their limited finances presented a significant obstacle. Hard work and sacrifice wouldn’t be enough to put Lydia through four years of college.
Lydia began her college search, and Westmont’s beautiful campus immediately captivated her. After visiting classes, she knew she could call the intimate community home. She remembers both falling in love with Westmont and knowing that it seemed an impossible dream.
Lydia’s mother reminded her that God could make the impossible possible and encouraged Lydia to apply. She received her acceptance to Westmont in January 2014. But a generous financial aid package didn’t quite overcome their financial hurdle.
Sean Smith, director of financial aid, invited Lydia to apply for an additional scholarship available to outstanding students. That spring, Westmont awarded a scholarship to Lydia that made all the difference.
Initially pre-med, Lydia changed her major to behavioral neuroscience after a psychology class led her to study with Professor Steven Rogers. His compassion and ability to challenge her thinking sparked an instant appreciation. Her natural curiosity and quiet persistence motivated a mentoring relationship.
Research opportunities with Professor Rogers have opened doors of possibility for Lydia. Her career options suddenly include clinical psychology, marriage and family counseling, and occupational therapy. After graduating this May, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in clinical psychology.
Lydia sees advocacy as a means to pay forward the opportunities she has received. “God has placed in my heart a passion for children in the foster-care system. I’m an adoptee, and so many people have played an integral role in bringing me from a grim future in China to the future full of hope that lies before me now. I long to play a part in that story for other children.”
During her time at Westmont, Lydia has grown significantly as an individual and a student. Eric Nelson, director of the Counseling Center, pushed Lydia outside her comfort zone to lead Active Minds, a mental health student group. A self-described introvert, Lydia admits her reluctance to accept a leadership role.
Under her steady guidance, the group has empowered students to change their perceptions of mental health, successfully broken down social barriers to seeking help, and connected students to resources. This work has been especially important for students during the season of trauma surrounding the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides.
Lydia attributes some of her greatest growth to facing her fears and navigating trials. “My years at Westmont have stretched me in ways that I never imagined. While they have, at times, been challenging and sometimes painful, they have also been wonderful years that have helped me grow and made me stronger. I would not have wanted to be anywhere but at Westmont, a place that has nurtured me in mind, body and spirit.”
When you donate to Westmont, you help qualified, and high-achieving students like Lydia flourish. Scholarships provide opportunity, open doors and change lives for the remarkable students who study with us.
Remove Barriers- Provide Opportunity
Emily Sutcliff, a political science major, comes from a family dedicated to Scouting. One of three siblings, Emily has been a Girl Scout for 13 years. Emily’s twin brother, Jonathan, has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy caused by a pinched umbilical cord in utero. Despite his challenges, Jonathan is also a Scout, and his indomitable spirit inspires Emily to advocate for under-represented voices. One day, she hopes to pursue a law degree and work to reform adoption agencies, half-way homes, and the foster care system.
Emily prefers numbers to writing. She wanted to say “yes” to Westmont, but the numbers didn’t add up. Fortunately, a much-needed scholarship allowed her to attend the school of her dreams. She feels so grateful for the generous alumni who created her scholarship by supporting the Westmont Fund.
“Thank you for the opportunity for a Westmont education. It's a gift to my family and me, especially my father, who works multiple jobs to support three children in college. Whatever impact I hope to have on the world will be part of your legacy because you will have helped me get there.”- Emily Sutcliffe, Class of 2021
Your support for scholarships makes a difference in the lives of students like Emily.