Danny Adames grew up on dirt floors, covered by a shoddy, scrapyard-metal roof.
Now, he’ll be walking the halls of Gainesville High School as its newest school resource officer come Monday, Aug. 12.
“I want that feeling of knowing that I'm taking part in making sure that kids are in a safe environment to learn,” said Adames, an officer with the Gainesville Police Department.
Adames has been with the department for about 10 years — five on patrol and five with the criminal investigations division. He said he was ready for a change of pace and wanted to make sure he’s a well-rounded officer.
“I've always been able to relate with kids, so I feel like this was a good fit for me here at the high school,” Adames said. “A lot of people don't really want to deal with teenagers because everything that comes with being a teenager. But I've always been able to socialize. I've always been able to talk to teenagers. And a lot of times, it's just one of those things where you just have to sit back and listen.”
He’s had practice of his own for what’s to come at Gainesville High through raising his 10-year-old son. But the real experience came from those dirt floors in the Dominican Republic.
Adames lived in Janico in the Santiago Province of the Dominican Republic until he was 8 years old.
“I was a happy, poor kid, but that's how we lived,” Adames said.
When he was born, his father moved to the United States, worked three jobs and was eventually able to move the rest of his family to the states. They lived in Long Island, New York, and as soon as Adames and his siblings could work, they did. They started bringing home money for whatever bills were due.
“We grew up basically having the very, very minimal,” Adames said.
He wanted more for his family and was able to save to make it happen. He eventually moved to Buford in 2005 and then to Flowery Branch a few years ago.
For Adames, it’s the American Dream.
“I know this isn't everybody's American Dream, but this is my American Dream,” Adames said. “If you work hard, even though you come from a certain area, if you work hard you're able to change the way you live or change things about your life that aren't so positive.”
After seeing that play out firsthand, he plans to use that knowledge to help students and teachers at Gainesville High.
“I grew up in a poverty-stricken area, got exposed to a lot of things that I know teenagers get exposed to,” Adames said. “I feel like I've been there, done that and I can kind of relate and kind of understand the pressures of dealing with certain situations like that. To me, it was almost like a calling to be here.”
He followed that calling after thinking about it for a couple of years. He’ll still be working with the police department when he’s needed, but his primary focus will be at the high school.
“He never has a ‘can't-happen attitude,’” said Jay Parrish, Gainesville police chief. “More than anything, he has a great sense of humor. So he tries to make the job fun and he tries to get everyone else onboard to enjoy what we're doing and realize it's bigger than all of us.”
Gainesville High Principal Jamie P. Green said the biggest responsibility of school resource officer is the “safety and wellbeing of the students.” But, both Green and Parrish said it’s a lot more than just that.
“That umbrella of safety is pretty broad,” Green said. “We want somebody our teachers and students can trust and are going to support us to ensure we're safe and protected.”
Parrish said Adames’ patience and understanding will help.
“He realizes that a (school resource officer) has to wear many, many hats,” Parrish said. “He may be a mentor one day and an enforcer the next day and a friend the next. He's the kind of person who can switch in and out of those roles, all with the goal of making a positive influence.”
Adames said he hopes to be more of a mentor and counselor than an authoritarian. Even though he’ll be there if issues arise, he hopes to be able to stop those issues on- and off-campus before they begin.
“I just hope I can reach out to these kids and get to these kids before they live a life where there's no turning back,” Adames said.
That’s his biggest burden as a school resource officer, but Parrish said Adames should have no problem.
“We always say people like people that are like us,” Parrish said. “And for me, I think that's what Danny can do. He can associate with anybody and find out where the common ground is. … It seems like today, everybody is trying to find out what's wrong with somebody else. Danny's the kind of guy that tries to find out what's right and get everybody going in the same direction.”
Adames hopes to focus on fighting drug and alcohol abuse in the school as well as any sort of gang activity. He’s not sure how bad it is in the school system yet, but he’s seen it “in the streets” during his 10 years with the police department. And throughout those years, he’s been able to build relationships with the community that will continue at Gainesville High.
“I think great police officers are like great teachers,” Green said. “They realize it's about the relationship. And if you put the effort and time on the front end to build the relationship, then the job's just a little bit easier on the back end. And that was my impression of (Adames).”
As a school resource officer, he’ll be able to learn, too, to help him achieve that goal of becoming a well-rounded officer.
“I know I'm going to be learning just as much as they're going to be learning,” Adames said. “I'm looking forward to working with the kids.”