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Making everyone count

Televisions across the country were flooded this year with ads asking "If we don't know how many people there are, how do we know how many roads we need?" The message is a simple one, describing how the 2010 Census facilitates accurate representation of the population in state government and for public facilities, such as schools, post offices, libraries, and roads.

Recognizing the unique challenges that communities with high immigrant populations face in Census participation, Humphrey School students Megan Evans, Adam Faitek, and Anna Swanson developed a plan to help community leaders in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood empower residents to complete the Census.

"The Census is important because of its breadth, depth, and timeframe," says Faitek. "It impacts everyone. A community can lose $1,200 for every person not counted, and it only happens every 10 years."

"[Cedar-Riverside] community leaders estimate they were underrepresented in the 2000 Census, leaving out two-thirds of the Somali population," adds Evans.

"Citizenship is not a requirement to be counted in the census," Evans continues. "The entire community receives the maximum benefit if everyone participates. And because all residents use the roads, are protected by public safety, or may need hospital care, there is little reason to think that 'the Census doesn't affect me or my neighbor.'"

The group began their research last fall by attending community meetings and speaking with local leaders. They secured funding from multiple sources and recruited fellow University students to help in their effort.

"We analyzed local promotion efforts so that we could target the areas that weren't receiving outreach," says Evans. The group then worked with such local media as Somali and Ethiopian television and radio and brought together local faith and housing groups to heighten public awareness.

"We held eight neighborhood events promoting the Census and helped members of the community fill out hundreds of forms," says Faitek. "We recruited 17 neighborhood liaisons, and collectively knocked on more than 1,000 doors. In the end, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood has performed strongly compared to what was expected."

"The project was impactful because it empowered neighborhood residents to work on their own behalf," says Swanson. "The community was more receptive to messages about the Census because the information came from sources within the community."

"The students' efforts will have a significant long-term impact on our neighborhood," says Merrie Benasutti, associate director of student initiatives for the Center of Integrative Leadership. "They have created new and effective partnerships between the University and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and strengthened local networks. They have worked across disciplinary and cultural boundaries to truly make a difference."

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