Becoming a lawyer was Ginny Adame’s plan for a career path. A criminal justice major with a psychology minor, she and her husband, David, and their two daughters had relocated to Los Lunas in early 2006, and Ginny was trying to get into law school. 

“I actually had really good grades and my (law school admission test) scores were good,” Adame said. “I just did not get in.” 

Upon reflection, Adame says she probably would have been miserable as an attorney. 

“I’m a softy,” she says with a laugh. “And law, the court system and justice are not always the same thing. I think that was a lucky thing because now I get to serve the community in a way I definitely wouldn’t have been able to as an attorney.” 

There was an opening for a DWI prevention specialist with the village of Los Lunas/Valencia County DWI Program, so Adame decided to see if her skills fit. She got the job and began working with people throughout the community to fulfill the program’s mission — to reduce the occurrence of drinking and driving including underage drinking in Valencia County through prevention/ education, enforcement, adjudications, sanctions and treatment. 

Adame says the position initially didn’t come with a well-defined job description, so “I kind of got to create it my way, which was kind of fun.” 

Her first step was to figure out who the people and organizations were that were already making efforts related to helping increase the safety of the community. One of the biggest players on the board was the local health council. 

“I started attending their meetings because they were the ones I got pointed towards,” she said. “Then, in the early years of prevention, I would go into schools and do curriculum and different things. That was a good break with the health council. They have so many connections to people within the community.” 

Adame and her “drunk goggles” have become regular fixtures at community events, especially the annual National Night Out events hosted by local law enforcement agencies. The “Fatal Vision” goggles let people experience intoxication without drinking, then run through a series of field sobriety tests while wearing them. People are always shocked how poorly they perform on the tests. 

“You know, people drink and they don’t realize — and you’ll see them with the goggles — they don’t realize how quickly their blood alcohol level increases,” she said. “They’ve not really thought much about it in the past and now they can’t do something ‘drunk’ they just did very easily.” 

Connecting to the community’s youth is something Adame is passionate about because that’s where the real benefit can be realized in DWI prevention. While enforcement and prevention efforts tend to focus on teenagers and underage drinking and adult drinking and driving, she says talking to children while they are in elementary school is where it needs to happen. 

“We can do interventions with kiddos before they go too far down on that road and get them connected to services,” Adame says. “Then hopefully, they won’t be our adult population that come through our DWI program. We can help them get connected, on the right track. We can do that in a lot of ways. Working with kids is where the gold is.” 

When Adame talks to community youth about the risks of drinking and driving, as well a substance misuse, she doesn’t use scare tactics. 

“Prevention really is more about training people in skills, not scaring people. It’s using the science of the alcohol and drugs,” she said. “The kids actually really enjoy learning about the science of it. I just try to show them the science and then — the big thing is ‘What is your goal for yourself?’ And that’s really hard for kids to identify. 

“Once they start identifying the things that will help them get to that goal, they get there naturally. They’ll identify the choices they can make that puts this dream of theirs in danger. They make it on their own and that’s more powerful than telling them, ‘Don’t do this. This is bad for you.’” 

When grant funding is available for enforcement operations, Adame does deploy tools such as underage drinking operations and party patrols, but she also focuses on building connections with community youth. One of the most well known operations is the after prom events at the movie theater in Los Lunas. 

Gary Jacobson, general manager Mitchell Starlight Cinema 8, who nominated Adame as an Unsung Hero, has worked with her for 10 years to host post-prom movie nights at the theater for students at Belen, Century, Los Lunas and Valencia high schools, as well as the School of Dreams Academy charter school.  

“Ginny has been a wonderful person to work with … She is very focused on being sure the … students have an enjoyable and safe end to the night they will remember forever. I have seen she has a special gift in her interactions with the teenagers in the community,” Jacobson said. “She is truly welcoming, supportive and encouraging to so many teens…” 

In 2011, then DWI coordinator, Frank Otero, retired and Adame applied for the position and was hired. 

In that position, she oversees the program’s alternative sentencing, its compliance program for misdemeanor DWI offenders, alcohol screening and treatment, as well as the enforcement and prevention components. 

Growing up in a small town in northern California, graduating from high school in a class of 32, Adame remembers losing a childhood friend to drunk driving.  

“During high school and college, there were a lot of antics. We were careful about making sure there was a sober driver, but when I was growing up, a lot less was known about the dangers of underage drinking and drinking and driving in general. I saw other kiddos get killed and from that small of a population…” 

After nearly 20 years with the program, Adame says there are still things to do, but she says she and her team can look back and say, ‘Yes, we made a difference here.’ 

“When you make a difference in even one person’s life, it’s really good. You always have to have other people in the community that you can connect to, who share that passion. I mean, people who, when they get kicked down they’ll get back up. It’s not always fun or easy, and it doesn’t make you popular.” 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.