Census committee getting early start at reaching out

Census 101

• The census is conducted by law every 10 years to count every person in the United States.

• All information collected by the census is protected by law so that no other person or government agency can access it for any purpose.

• Some things census information is used for: to distribute federal and state funding, direct certain funding to special needs groups such as people in poverty, develop assistance programs, plan urban land use, draw school district boundaries and forecast future transportation needs.

• Information the census asks for: how many people live in each household, whether home is rented or owned, and name, age, race and sex of each person in household.

• Census Day is April 1, 2010.

• To participate: The Census Bureau will mail or deliver questionnaires to each house in March 2010. If there is no response, a second questionnaire will be sent out and after that, if there is still no response, those households will receive a visit or phone call from a census worker who can be identified by a census badge.

— A local Hispanic leader sees potential stumbling blocks for a local effort to get a complete count in next year's census.

One demographic targeted as hard-to-reach non-English speakers is sometimes hesitant to participate, said Isidro Quezada, a Craig resident for 30 years.

But, he added, there is hope.

"There's a lot of people who already don't want to know anything about it," Quezada said. "But the solution is to have local leaders, especially Hispanic leaders, to have more communication with the community. It has to be very public, though. It carries more guarantees."

With about 10 months to go until Census Day, April 1, 2010, local leaders from the city and county have joined to create the Craig-Moffat Complete Count Committee. They have begun meeting with the end goal of making sure all residents get counted in next year's census.

Within the committee, three subcommittees have been organized to target each of three groups identified as hard-to-count - the rural community, young adult group and the non-English speaking community.

"We identified those based on an online survey that concluded those groups are the hardest to count in Colorado," committee chairman Ray Beck said. "But it's not going to limit us."

Although Quezada has no part in the committee, knowing the Craig community, he believes that what needs to be clarified is that getting counted can benefit everyone in providing better services.

"We need to get these people out of the shadows," Quezada said. "No one knows they exist until they show up in a hospital. With this growing community, there are more needs that need to be addressed."

In Craig, numerous services and organizations will be looking closely at census counts to determine whether they are eligible to get more money from federal allocations.

One such organization is the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

The VNA serves numerous people each day at various clinics across Northwest Colorado, providing services at a low cost.

To provide services, the VNA depends on funding from different contracts with the state and county, as well as some grants.

However, if the census can accurately reflect the growth of Craig, the VNA may be eligible to receive more money.

"Part of the reason they do the census is to see what has changed," said Cole White, VNA director of operations. "They may be nominal increases, but we do use that information and those statistics all the time."

In order to try to get a complete and accurate count, the committee is reaching out.

The problems with each group's participation vary greatly and, therefore, can require different measures to reach out to them. However, there may be some overlap, committee members said.

Just what those measures need to be is what committee members are looking to find out.

Language mix

Tatiana Achcar, in charge of the subcommittee for the non-English speaking community, is hoping to work with groups such as the Mexican consulate to help spread her message.

In doing so, she hopes they will bring trust and credibility to her message in order to overcome the distrust that is prevalent in the group.

Another challenge is the language barrier.

As part of addressing this issue at a national level, this year the census questionnaire will be available in a bilingual format for the first time for those who speak Spanish.

A few other languages are available upon request only.

Achcar also said she will look to request promotional materials to distribute locally in Spanish.

Another obstacle to overcome, she said, is that sometimes the community is considered mobile and distrustful of a government and law enforcement that they don't always understand.

"I think it's a challenge, but it's a good challenge that comes with opportunity," Achcar said.

The goal, she said, is to develop a message that explains the importance of being counted.

"With other concerns, if they're real, we'll address them," she said. "If not, we'll try to explain to people why they don't need to worry about them."

The younger crowd

The committee has targeted young adults as another group that also has been under represented in past census counts.

Frank Hanel is one of the subcommittee members addressing this demographic. He said some of the challenges with the group is getting them interested in participating in the community and feeling connected to it in a way that makes them care.

Although he is also in the beginning stages of the project, he hopes to get his 21-year-old daughter involved in connecting to that group of people and hopes she can offer a personal perspective.

"We know this is a generation very technologically driven, entertainment driven," Hanel said. "They are very social, so those are some of the things we're going to look at."

Making young adults interested in participating may not come as easy as explaining that services like housing assistance and medical care will can be founded based on census numbers, because, they may not use them commonly, he said.

At this moment, his subcommittee is looking at gathering information about how this group of hard-to-count people has been addressed in the past.

"We're not the first people to do this," Hanel said. "We're working on gathering that information, and from there we will move on."

Outside city lines

Another group with a more similar disconnect is the people living in rural areas.

"Many of the people who live in rural areas don't have as much access to the media as people who live in a city or town," said Jennifer Riley, a subcommittee member working with rural areas. "Without as much information, they may not feel like it's important to participate."

With less media access, Riley believes that rural residents may have a limited connection but said they are not disconnected completely.

The working idea to reaching rural residents is to use banners and promotional materials that are easy to read and to place those in areas frequented daily.

The challenge is also getting people to understand how participation will affect them.

"Funding doesn't come right back to you; you won't get a check in the mail," Riley said. "But, when health care programs and services you use depend on funding, you want to be sure that those agencies are aware of your populations and your needs."

The Complete Count Committee has a loose fall timeline for starting to spread its message.

The committee also is looking at starting slowly, by putting out a logo that will spark curiosity for more information later on.

"I think if we get too aggressive too fast, the message will be lost," Achcar said.

Most members feel that starting the committee far ahead of time allows them to create a careful plan, and there is confidence that the overall campaign goal to spread the message will be a success.

"Information is only as good as the people who deliver it," Riley said. "With that, I think we will be very successful. We'll do a good job, but it's just hard to know how that will translate into numbers at this point."

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