Ayana Bias was on a mission. The lifelong resident of the District of Columbia’s Ward 8 invested months of time, energy and creativity to convince community members to complete the 2020 U.S. Census. It was part of her work as Director of Advocacy and Volunteer Services at United Planning Organization (UPO), one of our partner organizations. But it also was personal.

“I grew up feeling like I had access to so much, and I want my children and all children in the community to feel the same way,” says the mom of three, ages 3, 7 and 10. “Kids born today will be in fifth grade by the time the next census comes around. So, what we do — or don’t do — this year will affect my kids and our community’s kids for the rest of their childhood.”

UPO was one of many organizations that began working in 2019 to ensure an accurate local count in the 2020 U.S. Census. Along with District leaders, they wanted to avoid a repeat of 2010, when a census undercount left the District short of the federal dollars it deserved and left residents with fewer resources over the past decade in areas as diverse as health care, transportation, housing and education.

The Bainum Family Foundation pitched in by contributing to the 2020 Count DMV In Census Project at the Greater Washington Community Foundation, which awarded grants to 29 local nonprofits undertaking education, outreach and assistance focused on hard-to-count communities in the region. We also provided funding directly to three partners — DC Action for Children, Mary’s Center and UPO — to focus on historically undercounted populations in the District.

Ayana Bias (above left) led the efforts of our partner, United Planning Organization (UPO), to secure an accurate census count for the District of Columbia through creative virtual activities, social media outreach and pop-up community events (top photo).

All of these census outreach plans were upended once COVID-19 hit in early 2020, followed by waves of racial justice protests. But with resolve and resourcefulness, our partners revamped their efforts and kept going, while being careful to keep everyone safe in the process.

  • DC Action for Children focused on educating local advocates and community leaders and engaging youth in the census process. In partnership with Mikva Challenge and Black Swan Academy, DC Action trained 15 youth ambassadors to contact family members, friends and neighbors to encourage completion of the census — shifting to text banking and social media instead of in-person contact during the pandemic. DC Action also worked through the child care community to inform families about the importance of the census and provide them with resources to share with families.
  • Mary’s Center worked through its 700-person staff for more than a year to promote the census in its health clinics and to reach clients through its many programs, including breastfeeding groups, home visiting sessions with new parents, quarterly baby showers and insurance enrollment. That entire effort went virtual at the start of the pandemic. Mary’s Center also worked through Spanish-language media locally to reach the immigrant population it serves.
  • UPO’s original plans to hold in-person community events shifted to Facebook Live events, virtual panel discussions and radio promotions. But they still found a way to safely connect with community members in person, hosting pop-up census engagement events across Wards 7 and 8 while distributing produce, serving meals and holding socially distant fitness classes. Residents could complete the census online, on the spot. UPO’s efforts also featured a uniquely D.C. twist: They worked with local musicians to write and publicize a go-go song to promote the census.

The Foundation’s communications team also collaborated with these three partners to create #Take10forDC, a social media campaign for the weeks leading up the census deadline. It encouraged residents to find 10 minutes in their day to complete the census online to benefit their community over the next 10 years.

“Getting an accurate count for D.C. is how we ensure our neighborhoods get the funding and resources needed for everyone to thrive,” Ms. Bias says. “And when all of us are counted, it will amplify our voices and give us the power to shape our future.”