DuPage County communities organizing to urge residents to complete the census form

There is no such thing as too many reminders of the importance of filling out the decennial census.

That's the message from leaders of Census Complete Count committees that are taking shape across DuPage County and the nation to prepare for the 2020 tally.

In DuPage, there are at least six such committees organized by county and municipal governments as well as civic and religious associations. They're all working toward the goal of achieving full participation in the population count, which matters because it helps determine federal funding allocations and political representation.

Providing information about the significance of the census is vital, especially for hard-to-reach populations that might not have civics-class knowledge about the purpose and intent, committee leaders say.

"Most people don't even know that this plays a role in what your ultimate representation in Congress is," said Patrick Grill, director of community development director for Villa Park, who is leading the village's committee. "It's not just, 'How many people live in this house?' It goes way beyond that."

For the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, ensuring the diverse members of the Islamic faith are included in the census is about the "idea that we are American and we have the right to be counted," said Reema Kamran, a leader of the coalition's Oak Brook-based census committee.

Muslims or members of minority communities can be difficult to count because of practical reasons, like they're busy with work and family and putting food on the table and might forget to complete the form, Kamran said.

Or they could be immigrants from a region where trust in government was minimal or nonexistent, or elders who lived by a philosophy of "put your head down, get your work done and don't share your information" now are confused by the request to begin sharing personal characteristics, Kamran said.

Through workshops and an online pledge drive on the organization's website, the Muslim Civic Coalition is working to help Muslims overcome those barriers and be counted to illustrate the "large pockets" where they live across the state. Kamran said the association also has representatives on complete count committees in Bolingbrook, Chicago, DuPage County, Naperville and Springfield to be "at many, many tables to talk about the importance of the census."

DuPage County's census committee is led by county board members Sadia Covert and Jim Healy, both of Naperville. The 35-member committee has workers in fields including education, immigration, refugee assistance, faith, culture and senior, youth and children's services.

The diversity is intentional and will help as committee members form groups of volunteers to visit residents in hard-to-count areas. Each visit will be educational so residents can learn that the census is confidential, "easy, safe and important," Covert said.

"We want to send people that speak in their language, that look like them, so they're more comfortable in filling out the census forms and self-reporting," said Covert, who already has visited residents who speak Hindi or Urdu to inform them about the population survey. "People have a need of familiarity, so we're matching the committee members to their communities."

The count committee in Villa Park, however, will not be canvassing homes, Grill said. Members will work to promote census information during village events so people can hear about the count in as many ways as possible.

"Even if it's duplicitous, it's still reaching the intended audience," Grill said. "This is something that you continually need to remind people it's coming up and to participate."

In Naperville, the library is among organizations involved in a census committee, providing information about the census in a "safe, neutral space" as an extension of typical resources, Executive Director Dave Della Terza said.

The 2020 census is scheduled to begin April 1.

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