COD Veterans Find Purpose & A New Path to Thrive

When Coachella Valley native Cindy Curiel was 17 years old, she enlisted in the Navy. “I was so young that I needed my parents’ permission,” she recalls. “But after a lot of convincing, I got their signatures.”

Two weeks after she graduated from Coachella Valley High School, she arrived in Illinois for three months of intense basic training. From there, Cindy entered Boatswain’s Mate school to learn how to drive the crew’s ship and manage speed boat and helicopters operations. While the work was exciting, it was also physically, emotionally and mentally demanding for an 18-year-old.

“Knowing that I was responsible for driving the ship put me under a tremendous amount of pressure,” she relates. “Although, after a while, it was a lot of fun because the rough seas weren’t scary anymore.”

Cindy came from a family with traditional values who expected her to follow a more conventional path. “The environment I grew up in was a little rocky. So, I looked for a way to better my life. I wanted to show my younger sister that we could grow from our circumstances and become better people. I wanted to do great things, and I wanted to see the world.”

However, while Cindy had excelled in the Navy, where they provided instruction and structure for everything, the civilian world proved challenging.

“When I came home, I didn’t know how to speak to others or do basic things. I found it difficult to communicate and adapt. I bounced from place to place, job to job, and home to home.” Then, during the pandemic, she broke her leg in a motorcycle accident. “I had a lot of time on my hands, and thought, “What better thing can I do than to go back to school?”

Fighting back nervousness and fear, Cindy bravely stepped out on a limb that transformed her life. COD opened the doors for her to communicate with people again, beginning with an email she received from the Student Veterans Organization affiliated with the Bighorn Golf Club Charities Veterans Resource Center. The message welcomed her to COD and invited her to join an upcoming meeting.

“That first day, surrounded by veterans, I think we were all a little intimidated. But the first meeting really set the pace for me, and I returned time and time again. Eventually, I was elected vice president of the Student Veterans Organization where I developed a support system, camaraderie and mentorship with people who I respect and admire. Now, if I’m not in class, I am at the center. Truthfully, I found my new home here and I’ve gained a fresh purpose.”

With all of the tools the Veterans Resource Center offers – from help with financial assistance and housing information to academic advising and mental health resources – Cindy feels anything is possible. Currently, she is pursuing her lifelong dream of working in the cinematic arts. “I’ve always had a passion for it and a natural ability since I was a kid,” she says. “My main goal is to create prosthetic special effects for movies.”

The motivation and encouragement from the counselors and co-veterans in the program have helped her realize that, even back in the civilian world, she can accomplish anything. Cindy and her fellow veterans could not be more thankful for the generous donors who have come to their rescue on many levels. “To all of the donors out there, thank you,” she adds. “You’ve given us a home and a place to be ourselves again. From the bottom of my heart, personally and truly, thank you so much.”

Proudly Supporting Our Returning Veterans
The Bighorn Golf Club Charities Veterans Resource Center (VRC) proudly serves 400 Veterans, Military Reservists, National Guard members and veterans’ dependents age 20 and over.

Dedicated to serving the unique needs of veteran students, COD recognizes the sacrifices made and provides them with the resources and support they need to succeed in their academic pursuits.

Staffed by knowledgeable and compassionate professionals, the Center offers a wide range of services, including assistance with the educational benefits process, academic advising and referrals to community assets. The VRC provides a welcoming environment where students can connect with one another, participate in activities and events, and receive academic advising and support including counseling, disability, priority registration and a link to County, State and Federal Veterans organizations.

The educational benefits process can be a complicated and confusing, but the VRC team provides guidance on eligibility, application procedures and educational benefits, ensuring that they receive all their entitled support.

The VRC also provides a variety of community resources including mental health services, career counseling, housing information and financial aid. These resources help veterans achieve their academic goals, transition to civilian life and succeed in their personal and professional lives.

Support COD Veterans. To learn how, call Catherine Abbott at the COD Foundation at 760.773.2561 or email

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