Speaking in five languages, Stanislaus County community members kicked off a publicity campaign Tuesday to coax residents into promptly completing and returning Census 2010 questionnaires.
"It's quick to fill out the form," assured the Rev. Nathaniel Green, pastor of Christ Unity Baptist Church in Modesto. Answering the 10 questions can be done "while waiting in line to order your coffee," he said.
The once-a-decade census forms will be mailed to homes in mid-March. The questionnaires are supposed to be mailed back by April 1.
"I never even knew what the census was until today," said Andrew Silva, a Modesto High School senior who is active in Project Uplift.
After seeing one of the sample forms, Silva said: "That's shorter than any test I've ever taken."
The census is easy. It's safe. And it's important.
That message was repeated in English, Spanish, Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian during Tuesday's event at Modesto Centre Plaza.
"Latinos must know the information is protected and cannot be shared" with immigration officials or law enforcement, stressed Sallie Ayala-Pérez, who is promoting Census 2010 through the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Pérez said Latinos are the hardest population to count because many of them are renters who move often, have high birth rates and fear anyone from the government. She explained that Census 2010 will not ask about immigration status or for Social Security numbers or driver's licenses.
Getting a complete and accurate population count is vital because the federal and state governments distribute trillions of dollars based on where people live. It is estimated that California communities will collect about $1,700 per year for every resident counted in Census 2010.
"We need that money. The only way we're going to get it ... is to fill out those forms," said Ruby Kennedy, who is on Modesto's King-Kennedy Memorial Center board of directors. She said she has started spreading the word about the census at her church.
That's the kind of grass-roots promotional effort needed throughout the region, said Robert Lindsey, who is managing the census in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
"Just tell 10 people each day that the census is easy, safe and important," said Lindsey, explaining how individuals can help.
Dawn West, another census manager, proposed using high-tech ways to get out the message.
"E-mail everyone on your friends' list or start a chain letter about how important the census is," West suggested. "You could post a message on Facebook or MySpace. On Twitter, maybe you can tweet fun little facts about the census. ... Or you can text your friends by phone."
The Census Bureau also is seeking help to find free sites where census-worker training can be conducted. It needs about 40 meeting rooms in communities throughout Stanislaus County where 15 to 18 people can sit at tables from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 26-30. Anyone willing to donate that space is asked to call Heather Mullaney at 235-3468.
It also needs about 20 Stanislaus County meeting rooms from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 10-14. To donate that space, call Latrisha Taylor at 235-3469.
About 700 to 1,000 county residents are expected to work for the Census Bureau this spring. The bureau began recruiting for those jobs a couple of years ago, and virtually every position has been filled. The bureau has a long list of eligible applicants waiting for job openings.
Community members interested in volunteering to help the region promote participation in Census 2010 are encouraged to contact Barbara Ferry at 235-3476 or StanPartner@gmail.com. Those wanting to help in Modesto can call Larry Sanchez at 571-5580.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.