Dubra Karnes-Padilla has a long history of volunteering


A few years back, Dubra Karnes-Padilla taught exercises in a hallway at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus because there wasn’t enough space on campus to accommodate a permanent classroom.

So when school administrators started talking about expanding the campus to include a cafeteria, child care center and book store, she volunteered to sit on the expansion committee to lobby for a wellness and fitness center.

Barron Jones-News-Bulletin photo: Dubra Karnes-Padilla, of Belen, helped establish the Corazon de Belen Garden Park and Community Garden in the Hub City. She says the garden is a symbol of revitalization and an example of how maintaining an urban area may prevent further decay.

Besides wanting to move her exercise class out of the hallway, Karnes-Padilla said that she saw an opportunity to fill a need and help educate the community about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.

“I wanted to create a culture of wellness and that meant not just being physically active, but learning more about the mind-body connection and what that means for our brain,” Karnes-Padilla said.

In the fall of 2000, UNM-VC expanded and opened the Student Community Center. The center consisted of two new buildings, one of which housed a fitness and wellness education center.

Donating time and energy planning and exploring the university’s prospects for expansion wasn’t Karnes-Padilla’s first taste of community involvement.

She got that taste several years earlier while raising money for the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that provides comfort, care and lodging for families whose children are in medical treatment.

She started donating and raising money for the nonprofit, after her only son was born with congenital heart disease.

The Ronald McDonald House fundraising efforts had a profound effect, sparking a lifetime of giving that has allowed her to join forces with some of the area’s more steadfast community advocates to improve life in Valencia County.

Several years ago, Karnes-Padilla worked with a group of volunteers that helped raise money to build the Belen Public Library at Becker Avenue and Third Street. Karnes-Padilla’s husband of more than 39 years, Edward, is president of the library’s Board of Trustees and regularly partners with Karnes-Padilla on many of here projects.

Former Belen Consolidated School Health Services Director Peggy Gutjahr has known Karnes-Padilla for more than three decades. Over the years, the two have collaborated on many school/community projects designed to promote health, community growth and youth engagement.

“I learned she cares about people, their health and the community elements that support positive healthy growth for our youth,” she said. “I found that she would push forward, no matter what.”

Karnes-Padilla parents divorced when she was 13, growing up in Forth Worth, Texas. It left her mother with five children to raise on her own.

To help out, Karnes-Padilla found a part-time job baby sitting until she turned 16 and was old enough to get a real summer job.

“My mother was raising us and it was difficult for her. It’s about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” she said. “When you are down at the bottom, trying to take care of the basics, the thought of giving was not provided since we were barely providing for ourselves.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory of human motivation that says humans must first take care of basic needs such as food, water and shelter before moving up the chain to fulfill other needs, including helping others.

Growing up witnessing the social turmoil of 1960s and watching civil right leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, taught her there were social problems that needed to be addressed far beyond her personal issues.

“I remember watching when I was a child and seeing what you can do for your community and how you can become involved and look at social justice issues,” Karnes-Padilla said.

Become involved — she has. In addition to helping raise money to build a new Belen library and lobby for a wellness center on the UNM-VC campus, Karnes-Padilla has voluntarily served on numerous committees and boards that focused on grass-roots efforts to improve the overall health and safety of the people of Valencia County.

One of those committees led to the establishment of the Resiliency Corps, a program that aims to curb the unnecessary death and injury of young people because of at-risk behavior.

The program focuses on using evidenced-based injury prevention strategies to reduce risk and strengthen the Valencia County community’s ability to deal with those risk.

“That (Resiliency Corps) was Dub’s idea along with Dominic Cappello from Santa Fe. But Dub is the one who brought it to a core group of community people,” Gutjahr said. “She has a knack for seeing the whole picture of a project as well as the details. She can make something beautiful out of nothing.”

The five-year project got off the ground, thanks to grant funding by the Department of Health in collaboration with UNM-VC, and has sponsored several visible countywide safety initiatives, including the bike helmet distribution project, which took place at this year’s Rio Abajo Becker Street Festival.

The resiliency program gave birth to a three-credit course that UNM-VC offered for four semesters. Participants in the class learned about the various injuries caused by today’s social ills like drug abuse, domestic violence and distracted driving, to name a few.

However the program is waning because of difficulties finding funding.

One of Karnes-Padilla more recent projects is Corazon de Belen Garden Park and Community Garden. The garden recently received a $10,000 grant from PNM Resources Foundation.

Most of the money was set aside for a fence; the rest will be used to build grow boxes, a potting shed and a lending library.

Karnes-Padilla said the community garden grew out of the Resiliency Corps’ Walkable Belen Project. The project hosted a series of town hall meetings to explore ways to make downtown a safe, vital and attractive place.

She said the community garden is a symbol of revitalization and is an example of how maintaining and monitoring an urban area may prevent further decay.

Shortly after the Fitness and Wellness Education Center opened, school administrators named Karnes-Padilla a full-time instructor and manager of the wellness center, a position she used to promote a holistic approach to helping individuals remain healthy.

Karnes-Padilla, who started her teaching career as an adjunct physical education instructor in 1988, helped establish an associate degree program in health education and a group fitness certificate before retiring in 2012. In addition to her academic career, Karnes-Padilla served on the city of Belen Planning and Zoning Commission for nearly six years, from 2008-2013.

She said retirement needs some getting used to.

“I love to teach, I love that interaction with students. I’ve been toying with where I am going to go to teach a fitness course,” she said with a smile