Westmont Magazine Trailhead Gives High School Students New Ways to Look at Life

by Sharon Savely Odegaard ’72

Learn More About the Trailhead Program

Each summer, the Trailhead program invites high school students to live in the residence halls at Westmont and spend a week exploring God’s call to live a meaningful life. Run by the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts, the program encourages creativity, curiosity and community. This spiritual retreat with an academic component cultivates complex discussions. Students spend their days reflecting on their interests, passions, values and strengths.

Kinzie Warne-McGraw

KINZIE WARNE-MCGRAW ’24 loved Trailhead so much she attended the program for two summers — those before her sophomore and junior years in high school. The professors care about nurturing students, which impressed and inspired Kinzie. “They see students as whole people who can benefit from spiritual formation, which can take place through a variety of media,” she says. “The faculty encouraged us to use art, nature walks and poetry to connect with God and each other.”

Kinzie found the listening groups, which include three to six students, to be particularly helpful. One student relates a story while the others listen, focused on the emotions of the storyteller as well as the content. This empathetic listening, with time for quiet and reflection, lies at the core of Trailhead.

A sociology major, she also appreciates the weaving together of faith and justice. Trailhead encourages students to pursue a lifestyle of caring about human flourishing. Kinzie’s group worked with Immigrant Hope, run by a church in downtown Santa Barbara. They provide services recent immigrants need for daily life, including anything from supplies to legal help. “This powerful day touched me,” Kinzie says. “We first read from Scripture the call to help others. Immigrant Hope then showed me the integration of social justice and the gospel in action.

“The experiences at Trailhead proved super helpful in college and for life in general,” says Kinzie. Spring semester she participated in the Westmont in San Francisco program, living in the city and working at the Chinese Medicine Clinic as a clinic assistant. Even away from campus, Kinzie practices what she learned at Trailhead. She enjoys nature walks and continues to paint, creating art. These activities help her stay connected to God.


NASH GARVEY ’25 also attended Trailhead for two summers — 2019 and 2020. “Both were important milestones in my personal and academic develop­ment,” he says. “The experience of learning from professors, engaging with staff from the Gaede In­stitute and meeting other like-minded students helped shape my perception of Westmont. It was a major factor in why I chose to apply to Westmont.”

Trailhead gave Nash a new perspective of how community in Christ can function. “For one of the few times in my life, I was surrounded by peers who had the same desire to serve the Lord, which was a monumental change in my involvement with others in faith.”

Nash appreciated that professors encouraged input from many different views on sensitive topics, while standing their ground in their convictions of truth and faith. “In an increasingly divided world,” he says. “I wanted to be refined by an environment that would respect individual ideas but hold fast to the pursuit of becoming a critical thinker.”


Trailhead delves deeply into life issues but also builds in time for recreation. During Nash’s 2019 experience, the group spent time hanging out at East Beach. They enjoyed a boat cruise down the coast to Summerland, taking in the beauty of Santa Barbara from the water. At other times, the counselors and students got coffee together downtown.

Friendships formed at Trailhead can last. Nash, a philosophy major, studied with Westmont in Cairo in the spring, and he roomed with a friend he made at Trailhead.

Nash enjoyed and benefited from Trailhead so much that he encouraged his younger sister to apply. She attended trailhead in 2022 before her junior year of high school. “She and I shared a similar reaction to the program,” he says. “She looks forward to applying to Westmont in the fall.”


KRISTIE PHILLIPS ’23 at­tended Trailhead before her junior year of high school. She believes in the value of the pro­gram and volunteered to serve as a mentor for two summers during her time at Westmont.

The program provides space for reflection and slowing down, which Kristie sees as invaluable. Her group met regularly under the canopy of an old oak tree on campus. They worshiped there. They walked the meandering trails, too, observing and analyzing.

Now, as an English major at Westmont, Kristie continues to value that kind of space. “If I want to have a life with margins, I have to defend it rigorously,” she says. And she does. Good things come up every week that she could say “yes” to. But she leaves enough room in her life to spend time in God’s presence.

Trailhead exposes students to the difficult parts of the world, explaining how the world is broken and how to look for God in the hard places. Kristie learned about race and justice and about chronic pain, an eye-opening experience for a somewhat naive high schooler. When a person suffering with PTSD came to talk to the students, the group discussed the way Jesus still meets those who suffer chronically, just as he did during his time on earth. Trailhead doesn’t shy away from difficulty but encourages faith and reliance on God. Students discover for themselves that they can handle hard realities.

Kristie appreciated the lighter aspects of Trailhead, too, such as getting acquainted with Santa Barbara. “We went on a boat to go dolphin-watching, we went bowling, we went to the trampoline park and we watched fireworks on the Fourth of July from the Mission lawn,” she says.

Those who attend Trailhead learn about essentials, such as resilience and respect and that listening is a form of loving. The lessons go deep, the bonds prove lasting, and the students leave with tools to live a vibrant life in the kingdom of God.

Learn more at westmont.edu/trailhead