February 5, 2010 | Contra Costa Times | Original Article

Local groups gear up for the Census

LONG BEACH - The build toward critical mass in the launch of the U.S. Census continues in Long Beach, as local civic groups are rallying to support the once-a-decade effort intended to account for every man, woman and child.

On Thursday, about 25 leaders and volunteers from a number of groups met at Centro Shalom for a workshop designed to help volunteers and organizers better understand the Census before they hit the streets in coming weeks to prepare residents for the count.

Centro Shalom received a grant to canvass 11 "hard to count" neighborhoods in Long Beach to alert residents about the upcoming count and, more important, alleviate fears about perceived consequences of answering the census and filling out the forms.

Esther Cepeda-Hatch is running the Centro Shalom effort. Her team will knock on 60,000 doors. The goal is to make 1,000 contacts per tract with residents who might have reservations about filling out the form, which is required by law.

"The numbers sound big, but I honestly believe we can do this," Cepeda-Hatch said.

At the Thursday meeting, which was presented with a representative from the National Association of Elected and Appointed Latino Officials (NALEO), Latino volunteer leaders showed up, as well as representatives from the Cambodian Complete Count Committee and the African-American Complete Count group.

Kim Evans, representing the African-American count group, said the presentation was excellent and inclusive despite being geared toward Latinos.

She said her group will meet this week to map out its strategy.

NALEO has been providing workshops nationally with the slogan "Ya es hora. Hagase contar" or "Now is the time. Be counted."

In Long Beach, the Cambodian, Latino and African-American communities have typically been the most under-reported in the Census by most estimates.

Since each person is worth about $300 per year in federal funds for

Census workshop attendees listen to Esther Cepeda-Hatch. (Jeff Gritchen/Press-Telegram)

a variety of local programs that help the poor, each missed person costs the community thousands of dollars over the life of the Census.

"I want to see Centro Shalom and other organizations get funding," Cepeda-Hatch said. "I'm so sick of hearing all the time there's no funding. With a proper count, we can do this."

But it starts with dispelling the fears many community members have.

"We want to make sure our community is aware of the myths about the Census," said Amelia Nieto, executive director of Centro Shalom. "Traditionally, immigrant communities are afraid to fill out the Census."

Nieto said it was important to let residents know that they wouldn't be exposed if they lived in overcrowded conditions or illegal garage conversions.

"It's our responsibility to teach you so you can teach others the reality," Nieto said.

Cepeda-Hatch's group will conduct its outreach campaign over seven consecutive weekends beginning in March. Volunteers are still needed to help, and she noted that free Disney tickets will be given as incentives to volunteers.

The official Census counting day is April 1.

Information is available by calling Cepeda-Hatch at 562-218-8400 or on-line at centrocensuslb@aol.com.

Cepeda-Hatch's group is not the only one active in Long Beach. On Saturday, February 27, the Cambodian Complete Count group will play host to a Census festival at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 1950 Lemon Ave., between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. In addition to providing Census and other service information, the event will have free food, entertainment and other features.

Information about that event is available at 562-433-2490.

The Census will also be hiring people to be counters, or enumerators. Information for that can be found on the Census job line at 866-861-2010.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291