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Communities' Census message? Count Me In

As 2010 Census questionnaires were arriving in mailboxes nationwide, about a dozen members of Teamwork Englewood’s “Complete Count” committee gathered around a conference table above the ornate lobby of the U.S. Bank branch on West 63rd Street.

Their job? To make sure every man, woman and child living in Englewood is counted by the time the 2010 Census is completed later this year. On this day, the pastors, community leaders and outreach workers were discussing the best ways to encourage people to fill out their questionnaires and get them to the nearest mailbox pronto.

Teamwork Englewood and four other NCP agencies have been busy for months encouraging residents to participate in the Census. But it’s easier said than done. In 2000, fewer than half of Englewood residents sent in their forms, which meant the Census had to send out “enumerators” who go door to door trying to get an accurate count.

To Leonard DeVille, the pastor and former 21st Ward alderman who chairs Englewood’s Complete Count committee, that means leaving money on the table. Estimates are that each person not counted costs a community $12,000 over the next 10 years. The numbers also determine how political districts are re-drawn.

So each of the five neighborhoods has designed creative and unique campaigns to break down barriers and get a full count. The other groups are Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Lawndale Christian Development Corp., Claretian Associates in South Chicago, and Enlace Chicago in Little Village.

Census-related outreach is also taking place at four LISC/Chicago Centers for Working Families in conjunction with Center for Economic Progress tax preparation sites (for more on that, please click here). There is a running tally of how well tracts are faring in getting forms returned on the census Web site.

“A lot of people fear the government is using the Census to get their personal information,” says DeVille. But Census information is not shared with any other agency. “If you’re an immigrant, if you’re wanted by the police, it doesn’t matter. It won’t have any bearing with Census takers. They’ve taken an oath. The information is sealed.”

Photo: Gordon Walek

The Complete Count Committee meets at Teamwork Englewood to discuss strategies for outreach..

Englewood’s door-to-door campaign has reached more than 1,000 Englewood households, said Darryl Bell, an outreach worker. Teamwork Englewood staff distributed literature in front of the Food4Less grocery store and will ask 32 food pantries to tuck Census literature into their food bags. At schools, parents will receive literature on report card pick-up day.

Teamwork Englewood even staged a Census-themed poetry slam in collaboration with the Chicago branch of the NAACP and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 6248 S. Stewart. In February, Teamwork partnered with Kennedy-King College to distribute materials at Black History Month events.

LISC’s funding has enabled Teamwork Englewood to hire two outreach workers as temporary employees, says Doris Jones, NCP director. “As the outreach workers go and knock on doors, they’re talking to people, encouraging them,” Jones says. “At every community meeting, we raise up how important the Census is.”

A “March to the Mailbox” day is set for April 10. “The Census bureau wants every community organization to be involved,” said Suzanne Stanley of the U.S. Census Bureau. “Put on a big event that will encourage everyone to mail in their forms. We want 250 volunteers from each census tract. Because after April 20, if forms are not mailed back, Census takers begin knocking on doors.”

Getting people to complete the forms is often problematic, says Stanley, a Census veteran. “People don’t understand it [the census], and they don’t understand its importance. People don’t trust the government. That’s why we’re undercounted as a community. People have these misconceptions. They don’t understand it brings wealth to the community.”

Little Village

Enlace Chicago organized 40 people to canvas the Little Village neighborhood on March 20 and encourage residents to complete the forms. The outreach was part of a “neighbor to neighbor” campaign called La Villita Cuenta, meaning “Little Village counts.”

Enlace printed 35,000 postcards with the message that the Census is important, safe and simple. The group hired 10 community leaders to knock on doors and talk to organizations and schools.

Photo: Courtesy LSNA

Parents at Funston Elementary in Logan Square received a brief training before heading out into the streets to spread the word.

“These people were strategically chosen as community leaders,” said Dahriian Espinoza, economic development specialist with Enlace. “We have people at both high schools and three of our middle schools.”

Teatro Americano, a youth theater group, incorporated Census information into its theatrical work, and Espinoza produced a Spanish-language video that featured many local leaders.  An April 1 event will spread the word via street vendors. “We’re providing them with a small banner-type thing that goes on their carts,” Espinoza says.

South Chicago

Claretian Associates used a March 25 event at the Villa Guadalupe Senior Center to reduce confusion about the Census among senior citizens. The event included bingo, refreshments and a raffle, and U.S. Census representatives were on hand to answer questions. Villa Guadalupe is an official Questionnaire Assistance Center (QAC) site.

An ecumenical service will take place Saturday, April 3, at South Chicago’s Peoples Park, 91st and Buffalo. The 11 a.m. gathering will bring together pastors and parishioners from several churches to celebrate Easter, complete with music and dancing. Pastors will discuss the Census in their sermons, says Valentina Gamboa-Turner, housing preservation coordinator.

Claretian created door hangers with information about the Census and directions to QAC sites, and hired local youth to distribute them. “Everywhere our staff go, they’re sending a message about the importance of the Census,” Gamboa-Turner says. “We’re attending PTA meetings to talk with parents. … We’ve worked through our block clubs, through NCP.”

Royal Bank included 2,000 Census flyers in statements mailed to customers. And Claretian hosts one of 13 tax preparation assistance centers run by the Center for Economic Progress, which are providing Census-related information to interested filers (Learn more about that program.)

North Lawndale

Lawndale Christian Development Corp. (LCDC) is holding a “mail back” rally on April 3 from noon to 2 p.m. at William Penn School, 16th Street and Avers. Outreach workers are distributing flyers door-to-door, encouraging people to mail their forms or come to the rally.

LCDC held an earlier rally, featuring gospel singers and other entertainment, on February 27 at North Lawndale College Prep. It was preceded by outreach and numerous stories and ads in the neighborhood newspaper. Other efforts included outreach at school meetings, businesses and block clubs. Winners of a poster contest will see their work on a billboard and included in the community newspaper.

Photo: Courtesy LSNA

Logan Square residents attend a kick off rally for their Census-related efforts on Feb. 5, attended by 125 parent mentors and parent tutors from seven elementary schools who volunteer daily in the classroom.

North Lawndale’s Complete Count Committee meets weekly to strategize on how to break down barriers with sometimes-wary residents. “They don’t want the Census in their business,” says Tameeka Christian, NCP organizer for LCDC. “They’re thinking [the government is] going to use the Census against them. We’re trying to make them understand that the Census is going to bring resources to their community.”

Logan Square

LSNA partnered with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) to boost the neighborhood’s return rate, which was less than 50 percent in 2000, says Tami Love, housing organizer. The effort kicked off with more than 100 immigrant mothers going door-to-door and passing out flyers and postcards that said, “Yes, we can be counted.”

The door-knocking, along with presentations at schools, churches and businesses, has delivered a message that Census information is confidential, and that undocumented people should stand up and be counted without fear of deportation. When Census workers start arriving at the doors of households that haven’t sent in forms by April 1, they will have official identification badges and materials. If people have questions, they can reach a trained, bilingual Census worker through LSNA’s Questionnaire Assistance Center.

“If you don’t fill out the Census and return your form, you won’t be counted,” says Love. “Our community will be undercounted. We are throwing dollars out the window.”

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