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In Worthington, youth lead the way to full Census 2020 count

Running between appointments with a sick kid at home, Blandin Leadership alum Jessica Velasco pressed pause on her busy day to talk about the 2020 Census. It’s a topic close to her heart because, as a Hispanic woman, she knows the impacts it can have on communities of color in her hometown of Worthington, Minn.

“The census is tied to everything our community cares about,” said Jessica. “If our communities of color get counted, everyone will see the benefits – in our hospital and in our schools. We will all gain from a full count.”

Jessica is a community organizer for NAVIGATE Unidos Minnesota. She is also a Girl Scout troop leader and a member of Seeds of Justice. Top that off with a soon-to-be family of nine at home and it’s easy to see how her days fill up fast.

When the buzz around the upcoming census started, though, she took action – filling up her plate a little bit more. Jessica knew it would take special attention to get undercounted communities ready to fill out the forms.

“Worthington is so small, yet so diverse. We have to look at the census through different angles, through different cultural experiences. We have work to do to create trust within our community.”

Jessica Velasco meets with JBS Pork employees to map out what a healthy Worthington community could look like and discusses how the census count is tied to that vision.

According to Minnesota Compass, Worthington is home to 7,833 persons of color (59.6% of the population). The Hispanic community is the largest (41.2%) followed by Asian (9.9%) and African American (6.8%) communities.

After thinking how best to reach out to these diverse groups, Jessica is turning to area youth to make one-on-one community connections and share the message about the importance of the census.

“Youth will be instrumental in helping our families understand why it’s important to get counted. They have some of the closest personal connections across the community, are trusted, and have the language skills to bridge cultures,” she said.

To kick-start this work, Jessica is pulling together a group of adult and youth leaders to learn census basics. Together they will answer questions like: What does the census look like? How can it be filled out? What ways can it come? At a second training, each leader will commit to bring a friend, expanding their network.

Their outreach plan isn’t fully developed, but so far, they are focusing on two key activities. First, they will begin by mapping the community and get out door-knocking before the official census door knockers go out. This way, people will be informed about the census by someone they’re familiar with before being contacted by someone they don’t know.

Then, once Census Day (April 1) arrives, they will host a series of census-taking events where people can come to ask questions or get assistance in filling out forms.

“We want to make sure we cover as many barriers as possible before April 1 and let people know that there are safe spaces where they can ask questions.”

Their organizing group, nested under Unidos Minnesota, has received support from Blandin Foundation and the City of Worthington to host the events and create materials to communicate about the census.

With a group of local leaders trained, ready and supported to advocate for a complete count, Jessica is looking forward to the day when people get sick of her talking about census.

“I want people to see me and think, okay we get it, 2020 Census is coming!”

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