By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Hamburgers sizzled on a grill, balloons bobbed on strings anchored to information booths and a guitarist strummed the chords of a song while neighbors mingled on a residential street transformed into a festival. Welcome to the first Central Community Circle Neighborhood Block Party!
Civic, charitable and social service groups sponsored the Aug. 22 party in the 1000 block of Ash Street to promote awareness about the U.S. Census 2020, encourage voter registration and to celebrate the Central Community Circle’s diversity and community spirit.
“I love to see our neighbors come out and support each other and learn about resources that can help improve their lives and our entire community,” said Ann Schwickerath, director of Project Renewal.
“We’re in this community. We want to impact the community. You have to do that from inside out,” said Rusty Boruff, executive director of One Eighty, which collaborates with churches, civic and social organizations to help people turn their lives around. The block party is a “fabulous way to bring neighbors and organizations together.”
“We’re excited to be a part of this,” Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said. “Families, neighbors, agencies — all coming together and realizing we can do so much more as a team.”
Adults, some holding babies or toddlers in their arms, clustered around the U.S. Census booth where a recruiter fielded questions about part-time employment opportunities that pay $15 per hour. “Some people are getting hired now; some won’t get hired for a month,” she told visitors. “You can apply on line … keep checking back. You might not get a call until December.”
Many part-time workers are needed across the country for a variety of tasks aimed at ensuring that every resident of the United States gets counted, where they live, on April 1, 2020. The census, which takes place every 10 years ending in zero, helps determine how to apportion the U.S. House of Representatives among the states and also impacts federal funding allocated to states.
Block party organizers say obtaining an accurate census count impacts vital services for people living in the Central Community Circle neighborhood. Some of them live in transitional housing, a homeless shelter or need assistance to pay the rent and other resources to thrive.
“Neighborhoods within the Central Community Circle ranked between 64 percent and 75 percent in response rates in the 2010 Census,” said John DeTaeye, director of development for Humility Homes & Services, one of the block party organizers. “These neighborhoods have among the lowest response rates in the state of Iowa. We are determined to increase those response rates in the 2020 census.”
In addition to impacting their representation in Congress, the uncounted represent a loss in federal funding for programs that agencies in the neighborhood provide for people in need, said Ashley Velez, executive director of Humility Homes & Services.“We need to count everyone,” Mayor Klipsch said. He wanted to assure everyone in the neighborhood that completing the census form – online, on the phone or on paper – will not jeopardize them in any way. Their information remains confidential, by law.
Davenport Third Ward Alderman Marion Meginnis has been assigned to head up a “Complete Count” task force of representatives from government, social service agencies, schools, faith communities and neighborhoods, among others, Mayor Klipsch said.
Generally, Iowa achieves an 85 percent rate in the US Census count. Areas in the state with lower percentages often are located where funding and services are most needed, Meginnis said. The Central Community Circle’s high percentage of renters (46 percent) can make the count particularly challenging. “We need to help people understand it’s important to your life, and to reduce the impediments” that keep people from participating, she said.
Next March, the US Census Bureau will send postcards with a unique identifying number to every household in the country inviting them to respond online, by phone or by mail. “We need to make sure that they know the postcards are coming and they don’t throw them away,” said Denise Bulat, executive director of the Bi-State Regional Commission. One way to do that is to train trusted voices in the neighborhood to help residents understand the importance of being counted, said Rachel Bruce, a planner with Bi-State Regional Commission, who attended the block party with Bulat.
The Scott County Auditor’s Office sought to boost participation of another kind at the block party – exercising the right to vote. One of the booth’s workers, Ethan Bettis of the auditor’s office, said quite a few registration forms were filled out and requests made for absentee ballots.
Brad Creviston, president of Central Community Circle, said the block party also provided an opportunity to encourage support for making a temporary traffic circle in the neighborhood permanent and inviting neighbors to get involved in neighborhood clean-ups.
“Our neighborhood has always been real friendly,” said Lupe Serrano, vice president of Central Community Circle. “When we have a problem, we call each other or we call the police. Somebody is always there to back you up.”
Sponsors: Humility Homes and Services, Inc., One Eighty, Ecumenical Housing Development Group, Café on Vine, and Project Renewal, are partnering with the Doris and Victor Day Foundation, the City of Davenport, Scott County, and the US Census Bureau.
Information about US Census 2020: Go to the website: census.gov.