HENRY COUNTY, VA – Volunteers are being sought for a committee that will help spread the word about the importance of taking part in the 2020 U.S. Census.
Tonya Davis, communications coordinator for the local census effort, said she hopes to recruit six to eight people for the committee that will help her reach out to people who may have not been counted in the 2010 census, communities that were undercounted, and other area residents.
The goal is to raise awareness of the census, which is conducted nationwide every 10 years, and the importance of taking part in it, Davis said.
U.S. Census Bureau officials have said that each person not counted in the census costs a locality $2,000.
Davis said she knows such funds affect money for local schools, services and more.
“As the mother of two boys, I want the best education possible” in the area, she said. More funding means “more opportunities” for local students.
Census figures are used in reapportioning congressional seats, redistricting and distributing funds to support state, county and community programs including housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy.
The data also is used in planning and implementing programs, helps in designing facilities and shows how communities are changing.
“Every response we get [from residents’ participation in the census] helps us address funding opportunities,” said Henry County Administrator Tim Hall. “Our population numbers are sliding. Anything that can reflect a change in that and reverses that trend is good for everybody.”
However, nearly half of the Henry County and Martinsville residents failed to take part in the last census in 2010.
The county’s average self-response rate that year was 57.23 percent and the city’s was 58.34 percent.
According to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the most difficult populations to count in the census are children younger than 5 years old, LGBTQ persons, people of color, low-income residents, renters and single-parent households.
Locally, census participation has lagged state, regional and local averages primarily in western Martinsville and the Carver and Ridgeway areas of Henry County, according to applications for a Pick Up the Pace! grant from The Harvest Foundation.
Harvest has awarded $10,000 grants to the United Way of Henry County & Martinsville and Henry County to help them raise awareness about the importance of taking part in the headcount.
Davis has been hired to coordinate that work under the Henry County PUP! grant, which also covers Martinsville and includes the West Piedmont Planning District.
The United Way’s efforts will be coordinated with those of Davis, she said.
West Piedmont has been connecting local governments with census staff in the region and serves as a data center affiliate, according to David Hoback, executive director of WPPD.
“We have a handle on a lot of demographic information that make us a good partner in terms of providing technical assistance,” he added.
Davis will serve as a “community liaison among County and City citizens and West Piedmont [Planning District],” Hall said.
Davis and the volunteer committee will conduct community outreach to call attention to the census and “get people interested from the start,” he added.
“The process is coming. It’s not painful. It helps everybody - your neighbor and yourself. We need a wide-ranging community effort to pull it off,” Hall said.
Davis said she is hoping the volunteer committee members will have a wide reach into the community.
“I would love to have a few [members] in leadership roles” since people tend to listen to leaders such as pastors, especially in African-American and Hispanic communities, she said.
Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki said having trusted leaders on the committee will help alleviate some people’s apprehensions about the kind of information collected by the census, such as internet access and computers in the home.
He added that he expects that committee members will go out and talk with people about the census.
City staff, especially in the community development office, also likely will be involved, he said.
Hall and Towarnicki both said Davis’ scope will not be limited to groups that did not respond in past censuses.
“Hopefully she will focus on everyone, every demographic,” so people will know what to expect in responding to the census, Hall said.
The count will begin this spring and attempt to log everyone who lives in the U.S. on April 1, which is Census Day.
Every home in the nation will receive an invitation to take part in the census online, by phone or by mail starting in mid-March, according to the census.gov website.
About one-quarter of the households will get a paper questionnaire at that time.
Beginning in mid-April, households that have not responded will receive a followup paper questionnaire, the website states.
Local census takers – who will be clearly identified, according to Hall – will go to households that don’t respond to the census, the website stated.
Davis will work on the census effort until around early May, Hall said.
She is a Henry County resident, graduate of Magna Vista High School and attended Patrick Henry Community College before graduating from Radford University.
She does freelance work in marketing and interior design.
To volunteer for the committee or get more information on it, email Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.