Census Day was last on April 1, 2020, and it came and went without a single knock on a single door. We were reminded of this really important day by our “giant social media company name” memories but waited to mention so it wouldn’t be lost in our April Fool’s shenanigans on the beach, and then the lovely overlap of so many Spring holidays, graduations, then summer break, then summer break that blended into the first “first day of school without pandemic confusion” that anyone can remember in recent history.
So many seasons of life have come and gone since this column was supposed to be written. But Covid changed the plan. And then our attempted return to “normal life” made this column, that I’ve been wanting to write since last Fall when the official 2020 Census numbers were released, seem unimportant and/or irrelevant.
But there is no point in waiting any longer, and honestly, it is pretty darn relevant! The census is not just a count of the number of people in our country. It’s a count of the number of people in our city who need vibrant parks and flourishing schools and streets that don’t flood.
As kids are back in-person in school buildings; and workers, like me and you, use Galveston roads on a daily basis to get to our job and run errands for our families, it matters. Because the census drives the budget that makes those things possible. Or impossible. For a decade.
It’s impossible to argue that a complete count for any city during any census matters. A lot. But for our city it was a make-it-or-break-it situation in 2020. We had to reach an official count of 50,000 or more. Prior to Hurricane Ike, our city had well over 60k people. After Ike, many left and the 2010 census reflected a huge decline in the number of people who lived here and the number of students who attended our schools.
United Way of Galveston was asked by Houston Endowment, a regional foundation, to lead Census outreach and engagement efforts on the island. Our job was to educate people about what the census was (and wasn’t), what it meant from a dollars and cents perspective for federal and state budget allocations for the next ten years, and that it was safe (and very important) for people who did not have citizenship status to be counted. We worked with City of Galveston officials and their Complete Count team. We worked with Vision Galveston, who has a solid reputation for ethical and inclusive community engagement. And we pulled in our partners, who worked directly (and daily) with their clients to extend our census outreach to the people who were at the highest risk of not being counted.
Who did we partner with? That’s a great question! Our internal team was co-led by Lindsey White, Jennifer Jameson, and Callie Walker. Callie’s experience with logistics and communications for large-scale events was a perfect fit for our team, who was going to have to pivot so many times that our office banned the use of that word following Covid.
We also partnered with many local nonprofit and faith-based organizations who were asked to take our message and tools to their constituents. We provided materials (in many languages), weekly training sessions, and check-in calls to facilitate peer-to-peer-learning and share best practices. We hosted a socially-distanced live-streamed mural installation at Stewart Beach with the Galveston Park Board and local muralist Gabriel Prusmack that was viewed online by more than 10k people, thanks to SaltwaterRecon.com.
Our fliers were sent out in boxes of food provided by Galveston’s Own Farmer’s Market and the Galveston County Food Bank. When clients came in for medical and dental appointments at St. Vincent’s House clinics, they were assisted in completing the census. “Bigs” from Brothers Big Sisters Gulf Coast helped “Littles” complete the census for their families. Family Service Center offered assistance in completing the Census to participants of their many programs. It’s worth mentioning that all of this was voluntary – no one was required to complete the Census to receive help from these nonprofits. However, our partners provided a trusted access point that ensured we were really, truly reaching far and wide across the island to make sure we counted ourselves when it mattered the most.
It was important for you to have the background because it makes the outcome of this work that much more meaningful. So, was it successful and why does that matter?
From Census.gov on 8-22-22
Yes, is the short answer. By a little over 3,500, we achieved our goal and the children of Galveston, their families, the residents, and infrastructure will reap the benefits in the form of state and federal dollars coming directly to our city through 2030, when it will be time to do it again.
This is an example of the important work that United Way of Galveston accomplishes behind the scenes. When we aren’t stopping by the banks or school faculty meetings or your local civic organization to ask you to donate to our cause, we are out doing the hard-to-explain-but-super-important work that 1. Must be done; and 2. no one else is doing. THAT is our cause. We connect the people that can help to the people that do help. We only fundraise for a tiny part of the year, and we make sure that your donation goes exactly where you intend.
But, the rest of the year, we are still doing important things that improve health, education, and financial stability. And when you see us, ask us about “what else” we do besides raise money. We’d love to share with you.
Speaking of sharing, we look forward to telling you more. We are making our way through the island’s banks, hotels, and many other workplaces in the coming weeks. If you see us, ask us what we are up to! And, if you don’t see us, find out if your island workplace is ready to host an employee giving campaign to change everything for kids, families, and seniors in the coming year. Call me if they say, “yes!”