By Staff Writer

As autumn begins, many students are now back at school. But the halls and playgrounds are quiet because their classes have gone virtual. COVID-19 has changed the course of this year in many ways, even changing timelines for the 2020 Census. Despite the disruptions, nonprofit organizations are working up until the deadline to get their communities fully counted. These nonprofits see the benefits of an accurate count for those they serve, benefits such as getting a fair share of community resources and government funding for Asian Americans.

Even before COVID-19, many local nonprofits were already serving as trusted voices in their neighborhoods to promote the 2020 Census. More recently, these nonprofit organizations have become the collective lifeline to reach people across a range of geographic regions, ages, ethnicities and Asian languages. From rural towns to cities and college students to older adults, these organizations have helped people adapt to the new normal by providing critical services like food deliveries and regular phone calls to understand their immediate needs.

The U.S. Census Bureau has been relying on these local organizations, now more than ever, to act as trusted messengers to their specific ethnic and language communities. Through partnerships, the Census Bureau provided resources to help support these local nonprofits to integrate 2020 Census outreach into their regular programs and services.

People like Beatrice Chen, executive director at Immigrant Social Services (ISS), and her team are indispensable because they provide help to a community in need: Chinese immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. In recent weeks, her team has been sending out care packages and education kits, including 2020 Census materials, to the families as kids go back to school, and they even donated masks to the local schools. “We are continuing to partner with local schools to ensure that we meet the needs of the kids and their families during this unprecedented start of a new school year,” Chen said.

Back when stay-at-home orders were active in New York, ISS conducted regular check-ins with hard-to-count families who didn’t have Internet access and needed assistance in Chinese, and distributed census fliers through their afterschool program. Chen’s team took any opportunity to drive home the message that the census is essential to the health and well-being of their community, and that it would make a direct and broad impact for the next decade.

“For the Asian American community in New York, we want to maximize the resources we deserve,” Chen said. “And [the census] is a concrete example of allowing somebody a voice in America.”

Meanwhile, Keiro — a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that serves older Japanese adults in Los Angeles — has done critical outreach about the 2020 Census since this February. They rely on both census and health data to gain a clear understanding of the aging population. This data has allowed the organization to adapt its services to better support its clients.

“We were previously focused on facility-based care, but we have since shifted to serving people who are aging at home. That’s why many of our programs are in partnership with community centers and churches,” Brandon Leong, who works at Keiro, said. With community centers and churches being closed, Keiro shifted to online and remote outreach. They continued to share census information in Japanese and helped older adults stay connected through technology like Zoom.

APANO phone canvassers meet on Zoom to while dressing as their favorite character for “Census Spirit Week.”

Some 2020 Census partner organizations, such as the Asian Pacific Network of Oregon (APANO), joined statewide coalitions to further amplify the message. This Portland-based nonprofit participated in the “We Count Oregon” campaign to drum up awareness and motivate people to self-respond.

There was even a dedicated Asian and Pacific Islander Census Day of Action in August, hosted on the coalition’s Facebook page, to create a space for people to share their immigration story and reveal the need for diverse representation that accurately reflects this community. Oregon is 97.7% enumerated as of Sept. 23, the Census Bureau reported. This is no small feat as wildfires have set ablaze parts of the state. APANO’s team has also made over 10,000 phone calls to encourage Oregonians to self-respond to the 2020 Census this year.

“We can’t provide services to people if we don’t know they exist. That’s why the census is important. When we analyze census data, we want to make sure that if we notice certain groups aren’t being served, we come up with a way to reach them,” said Marchel Hirschfield, APANO’s census equity manager.

These organizations have made a lasting contribution by getting all hands-on deck for the 2020 Census while tending to their neighborhoods. One way to offer thanks to them is if we all complete the census. This is your last chance to fill out the form online, by phone or by mail. Visit 2020CENSUS.GOV/languages for more information about the 2020 Census in Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Tagalog, and Korean. To respond by phone in English, call 844-330-2020.