Group aims to boost minorities' census compliance

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Delores Linton Brown stood in the doorway of her Wyandanch home and listened attentively as Carol Gordon discussed the importance of the census.

Gordon, a Long Island Progressive Coalition volunteer, recounted how the census population count, conducted every decade, drives federal dollars to communities for things like roads, schools, hospitals and housing programs.

Brown nodded. She didn't really need much convincing, though. She said her 2010 census form had arrived earlier in the day and she was in the process of filling it out - aware of its impact on "bringing resources to the community."

Brown acknowledged that some in this largely minority hamlet might be leery of answering the census questionnaire. "They shouldn't be," she said. "You should not be suspicious of something that helps you."

That's a message nonprofit groups like the Progressive Coalition are taking to minority communities across Long Island to try to boost census participation. They want to minimize the possibility of an undercount of minorities and make sure no community is shortchanged. A recent report found Long Island got nearly $3 billion in 2008 based on census data.

The coalition received $32,500 in grants from the Hagedorn Foundation and the state for its census campaign focused on Wyandanch's 4,000 households. The Long Island 2010 Census Collaborative, a group of philanthropic foundations, has distributed $335,000 in grants to 15 nonprofits for census outreach in "hard to count" areas populated largely by minorities and immigrants.

Brown suspected that Wyandanch residents were not counted "as much as we should be." For the 2000 census, response rates for the four census tracts in Wyandanch suggest as much. The rates ranged from a low of 41.2 percent to a high of 65.9 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

It was early evening earlier this month under a bright sky, when Gordon and another volunteer, Bree Wright, 18, a Suffolk County Community College student and Wyandanch resident, walked along Jamaica Avenue. Both receive stipends for the census work.

Wright said she wanted to dispel "wrongful information" about the census, and tell people "there's nothing to be afraid of." Gordon, 57, who lives in Massapequa but whose daughter and grandchildren live in Wyandanch, said: "That's why we're coming around, to alleviate that fear."

Accompanying them was Danielle Asher, the coalition's lead organizer. She said the canvass, just a few days old, has yielded some surprises. "There are more Latino families than we realized," she said after one man emerged from a home, nodding that he understood and saying "censo," the Spanish word for census, after receiving a coalition flyer.

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Across the street, Gordon encountered Lisa Marrow, who said she had applied to be a census taker because "I just wanted to help."

"There's a lot of people here in Wyandanch and they're not being accounted for," Marrow said, citing misplaced fears. Gordon noted how individuals' information is kept confidential for 72 years. If people aren't counted, Marrow said, "we're getting shorted."

Note: To verify that a census taker is legitimate, call the bureau at 866-226-2864.

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