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Martinsville Vice Mayor will work to increase local census engagement

MARTINSVILLE, VA – Engaging the community to improve census participation is the primary focus for new part-time census engagement coordinator, Martinsville Vice Mayor Chad Martin.

The position is grant-funded through the Harvest Foundation’s Pick Up the Pace! (PUP!) program.

Martin said he understands the impact when people who do not take part in the U.S. Census headcount.

Recently, Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki told the council members that 40 percent of city residents did not respond to the 2010 census.

According to a census official, each one of those residents cost the state $2,000 in federal funds distributed on the basis of census figures.

Extended over 10 years, that $2,000 turns into $20,000 per unreported resident, according to Martin.

That is money that could have been used for schools, roads and programs, he added.

Census figures also are used to redistrict the nation’s congressional districts, so an accurate headcount “is another way to make sure we’re represented in the right way,” Martin said.

Improving census participation will be a collaborative effort involving partners throughout the community.

Martin will focus his efforts on building relationships with local community-based organizations and nonprofits.

These groups already have strong relationships with countless individuals throughout Martinsville and Henry County, many of which either fall into demographics that research shows are less likely to participate in the census or have significant barriers that may prevent their ability to participate.

These partners will serve as trusted intermediaries that help promote the importance of the census to their clients as well as answer frequently asked questions that community members may have.

Martin also will work to identify a number of locations that could be used as “Census Completion Points” where individuals could access resources such as computers or phones that would help them respond to the census.

The United Way will have a Census Completion Point in place at its free tax preparation clinic located at Leatherwood Crossing, 8500 AL Philpott Highway.

Meetings will be held with community partners in order to raise awareness about the importance of the census, discuss steps they can take to assist the community in improving census response rates, and to disseminate information that could be distributed to front-line staff and clients that address many of the common questions and misconceptions the public has regarding the census.

As the engagement coordinator, Martin will work with local nonprofit agencies, churches and other groups to recruit a champion from within their ranks.

The champions will encourage people to respond to the census and be trained so they will “feel comfortable helping people with signups,” he said.

Specifically, Martin said he expects to reach out to the local Ministerial Alliance, Grace Network, Community Storehouse, the VITA tax assistance service and other groups that often work with populations that have been unreported in the past census.

Those include people of color, low-income residents, children aged 5 and younger and the LGBTQ community, he said.

By recruiting champions from organizations that have relationships with those people, the trust already is in place, Martin said.

In addition to the work that will be done with local organizations, marketing and outreach materials will be distributed through a variety of channels.

Priority will be placed on targeting populations that have historically been less likely to be counted in the census, such as children.

Tonya Davis, communications coordinator for the local census effort, and the West Piedmont Planning District Commission will work with Martin to improve census participation rates.

Part of that work includes identifying areas of the community that had lower than average response rates during the 2010 Census.

Additional targeted outreach will be done in those communities to improve census participation.

“Achieving a complete count in our community will be an undertaking that requires the assistance of the entire community,” said Philip Wenkstern, executive director of the United Way. “We look forward to leveraging the deep relationships and community standing that countless organizations throughout Martinsville and Henry County have with local citizens to improve our census response rate. We only have one chance to achieve this every ten years. The impact that the census has on resources available to the citizens of Martinsville and Henry County will be felt for a long time.”

The census, done every 10 years by law, will begin here March 12-20 when postcards will be mailed to each resident.

The cards will explain that the recipient can respond to the census by phone or online or not at all.

If the person does not respond by the end of March, he or she will get a reminder letter.

If that doesn’t get a response, a paper questionnaire will be mailed to the person.

If someone still has not responded by the end of April, enumerators will visit the person’s home to gather the information.

If the person is not home, the enumerators will return two more times if needed.

After that, the person will go uncounted.

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