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Innovative Outreach for the 2020 Census

Caitlin Furey Mayo August 2020

For more than 50 years, Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) has offered multi-cultural, comprehensive, and innovative programs that address youths’ social, academic, and career needs.  As an organization with deep knowledge, established relationships, and expertise working with multi-lingual immigrant communities, LAYC is uniquely positioned to increase participation of typically underrepresented groups in the 2020 Census in the Greater Washington region. 

In early 2019, LAYC crafted a plan for census outreach that would leverage one of their most innovative programs – the Teen Center Media Program.  After researching the impact completing the census would have in their community, DC youth worked in LAYC’s Media Arts Lab to develop bilingual outreach material on census facts and myths and executed an outreach campaign in DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.  When the COVID-19 crisis erupted in the spring, community organizations all over the country were forced to adjust their census outreach plans, many of which rely significantly on in-person networking and education.

In mid-March, the media program transitioned to a virtual platform and LAYC staff focused their efforts on the immediate, food, rent, technology, and mental health needs of the community.  Youth in the media program continued to meet virtually after school hours to learn graphic design skills. Many youth completed the work directly through their phones as they did not have computers.

As Lupi Quinteros-Grady, LAYC President & CEO, reflects on the last few months, she says “It is critical that our youth continue to be engaged and exposed to learning. More than ever, we must be intentional about ensuring our youth are connected and engaged so they can have a sense of community, support, belonging, and a safe space to learn and grow with their peers. The Teen Center Media Program has been one of these spaces for our young people.”

Youth designed bi-lingual census flyers to place in grocery bags that are delivered weekly to LAYC families. LAYC staff and youth worked to address the new challenges to completing the 2020 Census and even added podcasts to their digital outreach strategies.  Recorded by LAYC youth, podcast episodes focused on how the census intersects with race and immigration.  In the episodes, youth interviewed each other as well as people in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.  When asked, “Why is the census important to you?,” one youth participant shared her understanding of how the census will impact her community: “The census determines how much funding public facilities such as schools and medical centers in certain areas receive. Schools such as mine need funding to modernize and increase the quantity of materials like laptops and textbooks. Old laptops make it hard to get work done quickly and old textbooks don’t always have up-to-date and accurate information.” The interviews also highlighted the challenges that arise when completing the census, including difficulty navigating questions on race and ethnicity, as well as perceptions of fear and mistrust in the process.  Several youth participants shared that they had encouraged their parents to complete the census online and helped them through that process. 

Amidst novel and challenging circumstances, LAYC Teen Center staff and youth not only creatively kept media arts programming and their sense of community alive, they effectively elevated youth voices in “getting out the count” for the 2020 Census.  With the current self-response rate at just over 60%, we must all do our part between now and September 30th to ensure that every person in the country is counted.    

Listen to LAYC’s 2020 Census podcast episodes here!

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