The 2020 census is months away, and the city of Waco is looking for as many volunteers to help spread the word as it can get.

The local Census Complete Count Committee has an all-hands-on-deck approach to finding ambassadors, volunteers who can spread awareness throughout their communities. Familiar faces are the best way to bolster participation, said Esmeralda Hudson, co-chair of the committee and Waco’s city secretary.

“They’re volunteering in their communities,” Hudson said. “Really, our hope is, through the training, is to increase their awareness of how important it is for our community to fill out the census.”

Facebook posts from committee members tend to be shared more readily than posts from city accounts with the same information, Hudson said.

Census data is used to determine how much federal funding a city receives that can be applied to public health and homelessness initiatives, for example. The information also determines how congressional representation is distributed and is even useful to anyone who wants to study their family’s genealogy.

“It’s not just about you. It’s about your kids,” former Waco City Manager Dale Fisseler said. “There’s an opportunity here to make things better for your kids, their kids.”

The committee will train and equip the ambassadors, but it is up to each ambassador to decide how they would like to spread the word. The committee recently launched whyicountwaco.org, which includes information about how to volunteer, how to apply for census-related jobs and a countdown to April 1, 2020. During a committee meeting Friday, Census Bureau employee Jennifer Douglass said the bureau recently opened a Waco office at 1428 Wooded Acres Drive.

“Awareness is going to be really critical, because people don’t even know the census is coming,” Hudson said.

The committee is planning ambassador training sessions in October, November and December. In the meantime, members are putting together a strategy for reaching people through social media, TV and radio.

“When we’re asking someone to do something, they just don’t like it,” Hudson said. “A defense mechanism comes up immediately.”

While the census will not include a question about individuals’ citizenship status, a confusing back-and-forth between President Donald Trump and the U.S. Census Bureau in July exacerbated fears the census data would be used to target undocumented immigrants. That fear is still very real and could negatively impact turnout among Hispanic residents, said Hector Sabido, a Waco city councillman and member of the census committee.

“I do think there’s a lot of distrust,” Sabido said. “Esmeralda (Hudson) and I have talked about how to overcome that distrust of … the national government.”

Hudson said she believes the ambassadors will be key to overcoming that distrust.

The committee also discussed strategies for reaching college students, who might not live in Waco full-time and might not know they are supposed to take the census at their current location, not necessarily their permanent address. That even applies to international students, Douglass, the Census Bureau worker, said.

“If you live with six roommates, they all go on one form,” Douglass said. “Every student that goes to classes here is most likely going to be counted (in Waco). They’re utilizing your roads, your emergency services, your resources. They need to be counted here.”

The committee discussed working with student organizations to get the word out to college students at Texas State Technical College, McLennan Community College and Baylor University.

“I think we have an opportunity to really make a difference, especially because this is the first time it’s being offered online,” Sabido said.

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