Two days ago, my mother bravely took my two teenagers shopping for school clothes. When they returned home, they told me that a woman was sitting in her car in front of our house, “just staring at it,” as described by the oldest. Now, we live in a low-income section of town. I love our neighborhood because it has its own personality and pulse. Our neighborhood is messy at times. It’s loud when it wants to be and quiet when it needs to be. It can also be a bit dysfunctional at times, as are most things that are heavy with poverty, but its history is deep and its root are strong; it’s proudly been my home for decades. But I don’t take kindly to strangers sitting in front of my house because I run a tight ship here and am on a mission to raise two kids who will grow up to be great adults. Simply put, I don’t have time for the distractions that come with strangers camping out in front of my house.
I asked some questions like “what kind of car?” “What was she doing?” “What did she look like?” No one in my family had any real answers, other than my 12 year old telling me that she was kind of creeped out when the woman zoomed away when they pulled in. Fast forward to yesterday….
I was in the house preparing to leave when my 12 year old came rushing in, exclaiming that “the woman in the silver car is back, mama!” She was quite upset and scared, if I’m being honest. She had run out of the car where she had been waiting to alert me of the woman. I walked outside and saw nothing. There wasn’t a car on the street, so when I got behind the wheel we drove around the block. I had asked my daughter what kind of car it was and she was in the process of a Google search for “silver Teslas” (no, I never thought it was a Tesla lol) when she yelled, “Mama, there it is!” And lo and behold, there was a silver car parked behind my neighbor’s house with a woman behind the wheel, simply staring.
I pulled beside her, rolled down my daughter’s window and said, “Excuse me. My daughter has told me that she has seen you two days in a row in front of our house and I’m thinking perhaps you need me to help you with something.” The woman nervously smiled and reached for something in her passenger seat. She said, “Oh, I’m looking for houses, and I’m on government business.” In her hand was a sign that said something about “federal government” in large red letters.
Now I don’t know what your experience is with government employees, but typically poor folks try to avoid them because they seldom bring good news. She appeared to be solidly upper middle class, late 60s, with her glasses secured around her neck on a jeweled chain. “What exactly do you want,” I asked. “Oh, I’m doing Census work and I’m looking for 3436,” and she names the street. I explain to her that she’s on the wrong end of town and offer to lead her to where she needs to be. She was very grateful for my help. After we drove several blocks, I pulled over to the side so she could pull beside me. I explained to her how to find the lane she was looking for, and then I asked if she was out all the time by herself. She told me yes and gave me a nervous eye roll. I told her that I didn’t think she was going to get hurt in my neighborhood because we weren’t those kind of folks but that she should probably prepare herself for folks wanting to know what she’s doing creeping on their house. She nodded her head yes. I thanked her for working on the Census and explained that my place of employment, WVHKFC, was working to help get everyone counted as well. We exchanged comments about how important the Census is and why everyone needs to participate. She asked about a couple more addresses in the neighborhood and then we parted ways.
The Census is so very important to each and every West Virginian. It’s crucial that we get every one of us counted, but I’m thinking that the Census Bureau may need a lesson in culture. See, it’s not in my neighborhood’s culture to be immediately smitten and accepting of a stranger with a sign announcing the federal government in the window, but I’m glad it happened because now we can let you know that the Census folks are on the ground and coming to a neighborhood near you. We, as a state, lose over $1000 in federal funding for each West Virginian who doesn’t participate in the Census, according to reports, and we all know that we need all the federal funding that we can get.
Programs like Head Start/Early Head Start, Medicaid, Medicare Part B, SNAP, Title I Education programs, and so many more rely on Census data for funding. West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families is working to help build a statewide collaborative so we can get every West Virginian counted. Our organizers are traveling across the state and having conversations with communities and community members to help emphasize the importance of participation in the Census. We will be sharing more about our role in the Census work in the weeks and months to come because when it comes to West Virginia and the 2020 Census, #EverybodyCounts.