The Rapidian

United Way awards mini-grants to 19 local agencies for Census outreach

On Tuesday, July 9, Heart of West Michigan United Way announced $216,500 in mini-grants to 19 Kent County agencies to support Census outreach in historically under-counted communities.
United Way's Census Hub advisory committee meets with staff from Senator Gary Peters’ office in February.

United Way's Census Hub advisory committee meets with staff from Senator Gary Peters’ office in February. /Heart of West Michigan United Way

Underwriting support from:
The Michigan Nonprofits Count Campaign provides resources to support Census outreach in the state.

The Michigan Nonprofits Count Campaign provides resources to support Census outreach in the state. /Heart of West Michigan United Way

Eugene Sueing and Alyssa Rickman accepted a Census mini-grant for YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids.

Eugene Sueing and Alyssa Rickman accepted a Census mini-grant for YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. /Heart of West Michigan United Way

On Tuesday, July 9, Heart of West Michigan United Way announced mini-grants to 19 Kent County agencies to support Census outreach in historically undercounted communities. The mini-grants range from $5,000 to $20,000 for a total of $216,500.

Because the Census is used to allocate federal, state and local funding, as well as representation in Congress, a complete and accurate Census count is critical. The programs funded by these mini-grants will go a long way toward making that happen in Kent County.

The grant money comes from a variety of sources, including Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Wege Foundation, the Frey Foundation, the Steelcase Foundation and the Jandernoa Foundation, with additional funding from the State of Michigan.

United Way received 37 proposals for the mini-grants, showing a high level of interest among local nonprofits. Allocations were made by a committee that included volunteers from the community.

One of the committee’s goals was to reach a wide variety of historically undercounted populations. Those include people of color, low-income households, older adults, LGBTQ community members, young children, people with limited English, those experiencing homelessness and immigrants. The controversy over the proposed citizenship question has put a spotlight on the last group in particular.

LaMejor Foundation, an effort of LaMejor GR, an online Spanish-language radio station, will use its platform to reach Grand Rapids’ Hispanic community. Station owner Angie Morales will use the grant funding to issue on-air PSAs, send out reminders by mail, email, and phone and stage live broadcasts at local grocery stores.

“Barriers to participation include mistrust of the government and its systems,” Morales says. “By going into the areas where Latinos frequent and feel safe, we hope to be able to share the message that the Census is needed to ensure we have services for our community.”

The Grand Rapids area is also home to many Asian immigrants, including Vietnamese, Burmese and Bhutanese populations. Asian Community Outreach president Crystal Bui says her group will try to address three main questions for clients: What is the Census? Why should I bother? How can I participate?

“Many people cannot read or speak English well,” Bui says. “Many simply don’t understand the importance of the Census. And many who wish to participate do not know how. Our challenge is to help them overcome these barriers.”

Asian Community Outreach’s efforts include a series of seminars and Census assistance events beginning in late 2019. They will also post informational videos on social media.

Other recipients, like the Grand Rapids Urban League and the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association, will conduct outreach in largely African-American communities, while West Grand Neighborhood Organization, John Ball Area Neighbors and Dégagé Ministries, among others, are focusing on those experiencing homelessness.

As the Census Hub for Kent County, part of the Michigan Nonprofits Count Campaign, United Way will support Census outreach in a number of other ways over the coming year: by providing training and resources to nonprofits, identifying historically undercounted communities within the county and working with nonprofit and public-sector partners to coordinate a statewide Census communications plan.

To learn more about the campaign, visit becountedmi2020.com.

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