Counting with my Father by the Decades

I was 11 when I first learned about the Census.  It was 1990, and my father was working for the Census Bureau as a Special Place Operations Supervisor.  I still have moments ingrained in my memory from the first time he brought me to the office while he worked. I sat in a corner and watched as all these people would move quickly back and forth throughout the office. I would listen to workers share stories – from almost being bitten by a dog to the latest resident that yelled at them. Thinking back, I’m sure that I wasn’t supposed to be there! That year the only No. 2 pencils I used for school had the words “1990 Census Count” engraved on them. In fact, I think I had those pencils throughout the entire 90s.

2000 Census: Boldly Failing to Become a Special Place Operations Supervisor

When the 2000 Census Count came around, I was an undergrad at CSU Northridge and eager to serve, I applied for the same position that my father once had. At 21 years old, with limited work experience, I boldly and naively thought I qualified for this role.  My application was hand-written and let’s just say my penmanship was not one of my strengths. I specifically remember including on my application that “my father had this role in the 1990 Census, so he can help me if I need it”. What’s funny about it now is that my father told me to write that on the application! Needless to say, I didn’t receive a callback.

2010 Census:  Making a Difference Door to Door

In the 2010 Census Count I was living in San Francisco pursuing my graduate degree at SF State. Although my education was the priority, I was determined and humbled to join the Census team in any capacity. With a clipboard and questionnaires in hand, I was the proud Enumerator that really enjoyed going door-to-door. I remember counting a family of 12 and asking the head of household if there was anyone else that lived there, and to my surprise, she said “yes.” Apparently, she had forgotten about another relative! I also recall a woman who was willing to provide her information, but only through her 2nd-floor window. It’s a good thing I knew how to project my voice. When I would call home, I used to share these stories with my dad and in return, he would also share his Census experiences.  

2020 Census:  Census in a Time of COVID

This past year I worked for the 2020 Census Count as a Field Supervisor. My role was to ensure that addresses were accurate for the Census Bureau’s future mailings. In this position I was managing roughly 15 individuals in Southern California who confirmed addresses by walking door-to-door, similar to the role of Enumerators. As a bonus for finishing early, I was sent to Yreka, California to help that community finish address checks. It was quite an experience to manage up to 30 workers scattered throughout Northern California in five different hotels.  Some of them had to drive hours on narrow mountain roads to confirm a handful of addresses in remote areas. My project was completed on my 41st birthday, and I celebrated it by enjoying a nice long peaceful ride back home. 

During this 2020 Census Count, I’ve been provided the opportunity to help lead outreach efforts for the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). LACOE provides a range of programs and services to support the county’s 80 school districts and more than 2 million preschool and school-age children. LACOE leadership recognized the detrimental impact that an undercount in the Census would mean for communities, including students and their families, in LA County. With the financial support of the California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office, they joined the campaign for a complete count.

As the Census Program Specialist for LACOE, I have been working alongside our small but mighty team to engage school districts and charter schools in LA County and provide them with 2020 Census resources and tools. Below are some of the tools and actions we have taken to support their outreach efforts.

  • With backing from our partner, WeCountLA and in conjunction with FENTON, we developed the LACOE Digital Toolkit for educators and school staff. This site provides click-to-share social media graphics, talking points for parent-teacher meetings, and digital fliers explaining the importance of the Census. All assets were created to be easy to customize.
  • We also house other important updates and tools created from our organizational partners, the US Census Bureau, and the California Complete Count on our LACOE Census Google Drive. There is a range of Census materials, including social media graphics, school guides and toolkits, scripts for emails, texts, calls and radio, as well as themed Census information for specific “weeks of action.”
  • We host monthly Census Zoom meetings with districts and charters to provide updates on low-response rates, share upcoming opportunities for engagement, and exchange best outreach practices.
  • Newsletters are provided biweekly, with the latest information from the US Census Bureau, updated self-response rates, highlights from our schools, and local actions from partner organizations.
  • Our team has also been available to speak online for Census presentations and virtual events.

Currently, LACOE is hosting the LA County Census Chalkathon, from Aug. 17 – Sept. 7. During this time, students, families, and school staff are being invited to create sidewalk art promoting Census participation. All art pieces should include “2020census.gov” and “Everybody Counts!” LACOE will hold a weekly raffle of Census goodies and giveaways for participating students and community members who share their artwork on social media using #CaStudentsCount and #LACCensusChalkathon. Professional chalk artists are also being hired to create artwork in designated locations throughout the county. We are asking all LA County communities and Census partners to participate.

This year has been filled with unavoidable roadblocks that have challenged my spirit and strength in this work. I only wish that I could still share Census stories with my dad. On August 19, 2018, my father passed away, making this my first Census count without him.  As I do this work, I often think of my father and the passion he sparked in me to speak up and advocate for others, especially for those who are most vulnerable, like our children.

A lot has changed since the 1990 Census, but some things remain. Los Angeles County continues to be one of the hardest to count. With less than 44 days left, we must all use our creativity and energy to rise to the challenge and work to ensure a fair and accurate count.

My father taught me the importance and impact of this once-in-a-decade undertaking. Now, it’s my turn to continue the legacy of working to ensure that all families, especially our children, are counted.

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