(March 10, 2010) – Census Bureau officials are working towards 100 percent participation in the 2010 census and they’re seeking help from myriad and innovative sources—including the non-profit sector.

“It is really important that we get the word out any way we can,” said Cheryl Harrington, head of Prince George’s Complete Count Committee. “We need to make sure we exhaust all of our resources.”

Two of the county’s partners are the Training Source, a non-profit that provides training and job placement for unemployed Prince George’s residents, and Casa de Maryland, a non-profit group that provides various services to the Hispanic population throughout Maryland.

Evelyn Kim Rhim, the founder and executive director of the Training Source said she is excited to have her organization involved in this year’s census as she recognizes the importance of the process.

In addition to helping people find jobs as census enumerators, the Training Source is also educating the public on the merits of the census, primarily in hard-to-count communities.

“We’re working to make sure there is a complete count in inner beltway communities like Seat Pleasant, Capitol Heights and Suitland,” said Rhim. “We actually go into four homeless shelters a week in Prince George’s County to make sure they know.”

Already, Rhim is noticing that there are many residents who are ignorant to what the census entails. She’s glad that groups like hers are there to be a part of the process.

“Once I educate people on I see light bulbs going off,” she said. “This is not an invasion of privacy. This is not telling all your business. It’s expressing what I need so that resources come to my family and my community.”

That hasn’t necessarily been the case for the county’s Hispanic population. Tania Del Angel, spokeswoman of Casa de Maryland, believes there’s still rampant mistrust of the process in immigrant communities.

“People are concerned about the government having their information,” said Del Angel. “They are also angry about the lack of progress on immigration reform and are not enthusiastic about helping.”

Those are reasons why Casa de Maryland will be going door-to-door until April 1 to dispel those myths about the decennial survey. They’ll not only be in Prince George’s County, but in Baltimore City and Montgomery County as well.

“Our message to the community is that census is very important because it affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives,” she said. “In fact, the information the census collects helps to determine how more than $400 billion of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services like hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, other public works projects and emergency services.”

Rhim said she is taking an aggressive approach to educating the public, though. Her organization will be canvassing communities and that approach, she said, will garner the best count possible in her target areas.

“I’m being so strong in my encouragement that the enumerators should never have to contact the people I touch,” she said. “My people will have already sent their forms in.”

Despite her confidence, Rhim does recognize there will be challenges. “What I’m concerned about is those we can’t reach,” she said. “I’m concerned about those who won’t read their mail or, as a matter of fact, will throw it in the trash. Then when the enumerator shows up, they won’t open the door because it’s a stranger.”

Whatever the concerns or challenges may be, the message is universal for both groups: The more people who participate, the more assistance people receive.

“There’s strength in power and power in numbers,” said Rhim. “You want to be included to make sure you get the resources you need.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO