Los Lunas girl receives award for helping area law enforcement

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Candace Johnston just glows when she talks about bringing refreshments to the police officers who volunteer to do the DWI checkpoints.

She has made it her mission to see to it that they have refreshments and water during the operation, which she calls “Lollipops for Law Enforcement.”

Submitted photo: Los Lunas Middle School eighth-grader Candace Johnston was given a New Mexico Department of Safety award by New Mexico State Police Chief Robert Schilling in June for her contributions to the state DWI program.

It is one of her many passionate community service projects, one for which she was recognized for at the annual New Mexico Department of Safety awards ceremony in June.

The Los Lunas Middle School student made history as the youngest DPS award recipient ever, and the New Mexico State Police Department Honorary Commission named her as honorary state police officer.

She was given her own badge and a certificate of the award.

When she learned that in order to have DWI checkpoints, officers had to volunteer their time, she was inspired to do something for them.

“I think that the officers should be rewarded for all their hard work,” she said.

So, she talks to local restaurants to work out special prices she can afford, and takes meals, coffee or some type of refreshment to the officers.

Sometimes, the restaurants donate the food, she said.

In May, Candace was invited to join Gov. Susana Martinez for a press conference to unveil the new state DWI slogan, ENDWI.

DWI is something Candace has had a personal experience with. She was in the car with an adult family member who was driving drunk, she said.

“People die from drunk drivers, and I think if we have more people to stop that, there will be less people who get hurt,” she said.

She learned about the signs of a drunk driver at her elementary school, Sundance Elementary.

“When I was sitting in the car, I just thought about those different things, because we were driving crazy,” she said. “I had seen the beer bottle and I thought about all the things the teachers had told the students about drunk drivers. I realized I was in the car with a drunk driver.”

She got the driver to stop at Sonic, and she got out and told one of the employees, who called her mother.

The experience inspired her to let other children know they don’t have to be afraid to tell another adult about a drunk driver.

Candace is also involved with MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and was appointed as state ambassador of children against drunk driving in 2005.

She gave her phone number to children she met who said they had family members who drank a lot, so they could call her if they found themselves in a car with a drunk driver, she said.

Submitted photo: New Mexico State Police officers pose with Los Lunas Middle School student Candace Johnston after the New Mexico State Police Department Honorary Commission awarded her as honorary state police officer. New Mexico Police Chief Robert Schilling stands to the right of Johnston.

“They would call me, and me and my mom would go pick them up,” Candace said.

“Or we would call safe ride for them,” her mother, Kimberly Johnston adds.

Jennifer Barry, the 2006 Miss America, came to New Mexico and Candace got to meet her.

“Her platform was Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” Kimberly said. “She really inspired Candace, and kept in contact with her over the years.”

Candace has attended to town hall meetings as a representative of children against drunk driving with Valencia County Youth Development, Inc.

“She was a guest speaker a couple of times at YDI,” said Candace. “The organization has special trainings that they do, and the organization has asked her to speak several times over the years.

“We’ve done different things with MADD,” she said. “We’ve done impact panels and things like that, but it’s mostly the interaction with officers here in Valencia County and Bernalillo.”

Candace doesn’t just do Lollipops for Law Enforcement. The last four years, she has also volunteered for Toys for Tots, Kimberly said.

“Last year, I was actually one of Santa’s elves and I sat there all day and gave out toys, took pictures, handed out all sorts of things, like pencils and erasers, and helped clean up,” Candace said.

Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard invited Candace to join him and his department for National Night Out last year, and Candace partnered with The Sugar Shack in Los Lunas to give out snow cones.

She also donated more than 20 sets of school supplies to children in need, with money she raised for her organization, Lollipops for Law Enforcement.

The young activist plans to team up again with the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department for National Night Out on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

“Sheriff Louis Burkhard, Under Sheriff Linda Barreras, and their department, have always positively supported Candace,” Kimberly said.

“I really like to help other people,” Candace said. “I like to see people smile, that’s what makes me feel good inside, because I think when people are smiling they are happy, and don’t have to worry about that much.”

The young girl’s exuberance knows no bounds. This year she is looking forward to working with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and State Rep. Rick Miera to get national recognition for New Mexico Youth Day, a day to reward children for good behavior and school grades.

Candace is a founding member of the event, which includes a tax-free holiday for school supplies signed into law by former Gov. Richardson.

Johnston practices what she calls, “extreme couponing,” collecting coupons to get food and school supplies at a reduced rate or at no cost.

“I try to donate a lot of it, but I keep some of it so if a neighbor needs something, I have it,” she said.

“She’s donated to the senior center (Fred Lunas Senior Center) and she’s donated to the Domestic Violence Shelter in Los Lunas,” Kimberly said.

Her fundraising also includes selling luminarias and holding garage sales.

Candace is working to raise $250 to hire someone to draw up the articles of incorporation for her organization, so she and her mother can begin the process to obtain nonprofit status.

If you would like to help Candace in her community projects, email her at justicegirl93@yahoo.com or call 804-0862.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.