Census committee brainstorms about getting the message out

First Posted: 8/4/2009

DOBSON In an effort to make sure every single citizen of Surry County is counted in the upcoming 2010 Census, a committee of community, education and government representatives met Tuesday afternoon to come up with ideas on how to get the job done.
The Census wont be mailed out until April of next year, but in order to get people interested in filling out the 10-question form, leaders are putting their heads together to find ways to reach everyone.
You need to be up and running already. April is just right around the corner, said U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Teresa Villamarn. You need to be planting the seeds now. The idea is that we get people to fill them out and send them in, that way nobody has to come knock on their door.
The Complete Count Committee is being headed up by Surry County Planning Director Kim Bates.
I think we have a great committee, but we to do need more faith-based community participation, Bates said.
Villamarn reminded the committee that getting an accurate count is vital to getting funding in Surry County.
The totals affect funding in your community, and data collected in the census helps inform decision makers how your community is changing. Approximately $300 billion in federal funding is distributed to communities each year, Villamarn said.
The next census isnt for 10 years. So if you dont get everyone counted thats your kids high school education or your parents retirement that could be affected, she said.
She said census data is absolutely confidential.
Your answers are protected by law and are strictly confidential. It is illegal for the Census Bureau, or its employees, to share your personal information with any other government agency including law enforcement, the (IRS) Internal Revenue Service, Welfare, the (FBI) Federal Bureau of Investigation or Immigration officials.
Bryan Taylor, assistant superintendent with Mount Airy City Schools, threw out the first ideas for reaching the community through schools. Some of his suggestions included using the Connect Ed, the school systems phone alert system that enables school administrators to schedule, send and track personalized messages to students and parents.
We could send out one alert in the fall, one close to Christmas and again in the spring, Taylor said.
Villamarn told the group it could use any materials provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, but it would have to pay for the cost of any materials used or it could apply for grant money. She said any materials that stray away from the Bureaus materials would have to be pre-approved by Bureau officials first.
Taylor asked if there was already a system in place for making short snippets that could be announced over the loud speakers during ball games. Villamarn didnt have an answer for him.
Some other ideas from Taylor included hand-outs, newsletters, posters or banners at sporting events, placing a link to the Bureau on the schools Web site and e-mails reminding parents to fill out the forms.
Charmaine Johnson, a representative of the community, asked if an office could be set up in an existing business to help people who need help filling out the forms.
Villamarn said that was a good idea and all that would be needed would be a chair, a desk and a phone.
Some ideas that came from the government group were to insert reminders in paychecks, send out reminders on tax bills and to contact utilities to see if those companies would include reminders with their bills.
Other ideas included getting local radio and television stations to run public service announcements and for newspapers to run ads reminding people to fill out their forms. Reminding people at events such as the county fair and the Autumn Leaves Festival were also on the table.
From the community group, ideas such as getting information out to retirement communities and libraries, hospitals, medical clinics and doctors offices were mentioned. The group also wanted to include civic organizations such as the Lions Club, and getting ministries like Salvation Army and Yokefellow involved. Having information posted in grocery stores and at larger department stores came out of the idea session yesterday as well.
Villamarn said she would be talking to employees of Northern Hospital of Surry County today. She is also scheduled to talk to the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce. She suggested that the group talk to law enforcement and fire agencies for additional help.
For more information on how to volunteer on the steering committee, call Kim Bates at 401-8350.
Contact Mondee Tilley at [email protected] or at 719-1930.

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