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Grand Rapids to celebrate Census Day on April 1 with readjusted outreach efforts by community organizations

Community organizations in Grand Rapids that have been serving as turnout-focused Census Hubs are pivoting their in-person outreach around helping residents get counted to an increasingly online effort.
Grand Rapids census ambassadors answering questions about the 2020 census at Celebration Cinema Studio Park on January 20, 2020

Grand Rapids census ambassadors answering questions about the 2020 census at Celebration Cinema Studio Park on January 20, 2020 /Complete Count Committee

Looking for more info about the 2020 census?

More information about the 2020 census effort in Grand Rapids can be found at and the 2020 U.S. census effort as a whole at

Across the U.S., Wednesday, April 1 will mark Census Day, a key reference date for the 2020 U.S. census.

The once-every-decade U.S. census effort informs the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding to resources such as Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Title I, and the National School Lunch Program, determines the number of congressional seats for each state, and helps redraw state and congressional legislative districts.

This year’s April 1 will mark multiple important occurrences. Foremost, April 1 will be the date residents will use when determining how many individuals are living in their homes in 2020 when completing this year’s census. It’s also the date by which every home should have received invitations by mail to participate. The census can be completed this year online, by phone, or by mail.

In light of these occurrences, Census Day was originally to be observed nationwide on April 1 with in-person events – organized by community and governmental organizations – helping to celebrate, educate, and assist residents with being counted in the census. However, like many aspects of American life, the rapidly growing crisis surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has caused cancellation of these get-out-the-count events. Grand Rapids’ own Census Day events have been no exception.

The 2020 U.S. census count itself will continue unabated.

Owing to its ability to be completed online, by phone, or by mail, residents across Grand Rapids will be able to get themselves and those in their homes counted in this year’s census from the convenience of their own homes. Such convenience may be seen more as necessary at this point, with COVID-19 leading to state and federal state of emergency declarations, a Michigan ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, a White House recommendation of gatherings of no more than 10 people, and many more related developments all within the span of the last couple weeks.

With these developments in mind, community organizations in Grand Rapids that have been serving as turnout-focused Census Hubs are pivoting their in-person outreach around helping as many residents as possible get counted to an increasingly online focus for this purpose. This increased online focus will include more active use of social media, text messaging, email newsletters, and other methods such organizations are still figuring out.

Engaging directly with historically under-counted communities by going into these communities to hold activities like educational tables and Census Days, where people come and complete the census on-site, was the crux of our outreach plan,” said Crystal Bui, president and chair of Asian Community Outreach (ACO), a Census Hub. “Our team spent many hours planning for these events and now those in-person community events are looking less likely.”

In spite of the now seemingly unusable time spent crafting their in-person outreach plans, Bui is confident ACO’s Census Hub team can successfully channel their energies to a more fully digital approach.

“From the beginning, we’ve asked our team to think ‘outside the box’ in this project and now we’re asking them to do it again. In this modern age, we have tools at our disposal in the form of social media like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, text messaging, etc. — those are all tools that we can use to connect with people and send information. We just have to figure out how we can best use these tools to craft our approach.”

Bui notes with a hint of humor that the benefit of working with a Census Hub team comprised of tech-savvy, younger people is that they’ll probably figure it out faster than she can.

ACO’s Census Hub team is one of 18 such teams belonging to community organizations determined to get as many Grand Rapids residents as possible counted in the 2020 census. Heart of West Michigan United Way (HWMUW) serves as their administrative and organizational support, with their funding for the effort coming through Michigan Nonprofit Association.

The 18 Census Hubs supported in this effort are Asian Community Outreach, Bhutanese Community of Michigan, Creston Neighborhood Association, Dégagé Ministries, Dwelling Place, Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association, Genesis Non-Profit Housing, Grand Rapids HQ, Grand Rapids Nehemiah Project, Grand Rapids Urban League, Hispanic Center of West Michigan, John Ball Area Neighbors, LaMejor Foundation, Migrant Legal Aid, Neighbors of Belknap, New City Neighbors, West Grand Neighborhood Association, and the YMCA.

We are still engaging with neighbors and informing them of the importance of the census in our newsletter, via email and social media,” noted Monical Hall, executive director for John Ball Area Neighbors, referring to the changes ushered in by an increasing mindfulness of public safety during this time.

West Grand Neighborhood Association’s Census Hub team likewise shared their intention toward increased online engagement around local census turnout in the face of the growing pandemic.

“In lieu of [the pandemic] we are asking people to tag us on social media after completing the census with ‘#imcounted!RU?’” said Annette Vandenberg, executive director for West Grand Neighborhood Association.

Fran Dalton, community organizer for Garfield Parks Neighborhood Association noted that, not only will their Census Hub team be more fully utilizing online methods for their census turnout outreach, they’ll also be encouraging the online method for completing the census to those belonging in their neighborhood.

“The online survey submission process is most helpful in these circumstances,” said Dalton. “We will continue to encourage those that are comfortable with the online submission option to take advantage of it.”

The capabilities the internet provides for Grand Rapids and U.S. residents will prove vital in this year’s census count — both for completing the census and getting word out about its importance. The ability to complete the census by phone and mail will also still play important roles.

Where the ability to complete the census and learn about its importance through the internet may not be of practical use, however, is with older U.S. residents who happen to have either less immediate access to technology or simply less knowhow.

With community volunteers and workers temporarily unable to assist these residents needing additional help through in-person means at Census Hub outreach events or most of the city’s Census Assistance Centers, the question remains how the local and national efforts to get as many residents counted will be impacted in light.

Additionally, how residents with disabilities and language barriers potentially needing in-person assistance may be impacted remains to be seen. The impact of the growing pandemic as it relates to census enumerators, whose job it will be to help collect responses in-person from households yet to respond by May through July, also presently stands as a wait-and-see.

In the meantime, online, phone, and mail resources await Grand Rapids residents able to complete the census through any of these methods. The short 10-minute census questionnaire can be completed online at, over the phone toll-free at 1-888-330-2020, or by mail, for those who haven’t responded online or over the phone within the next few weeks, through a paper questionnaire to be mailed to these residents’ addresses.

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