Census workers hope to be part of history

Thursday, April 1, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Cole Chambers: A way to serve his country

The U.S. Constitution gave Cole Chambers a reason to be a census worker.


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“It’s a way to serve my country and my community,” said Chambers, group quarters supervisor for the Columbia census office. A former member of the Navy, he saw the 2010 count as a way to continue serving.

He also has performed as a bass guitarist and singer, which gave him a broader understanding of American culture.

“I’ve been all over the U.S.,” Chambers said. “I played on the road for 25 years.”

Before he began the job, Chambers took the time to read the Constitution. Hired by the U.S. Census Bureau in March 2009, his first task was updating maps to prepare for the count.

Last November, he became a clerk in the Columbia office. After recruiting census workers, he moved up to group quarters supervisor.

Now Chambers is responsible for counting groups in nontraditional housing units, such as nursing homes, hospitals, college dorms, correctional facilities and shelters.

He calls his position a “hybrid” — part office supervisor and part field supervisor.

“We’ve had our plates full verifying where people live who are experiencing homelessness to make sure we enumerate them accurately and confidentially,” he said.

Would he re-up for the 2020 team? In a heartbeat, he said.

“This is the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. This job has renewed my sense of patriotism.”

Francisco Forbes: Never too late to join the team

Francisco Forbes accepted his job as a census worker just over a year ago. He was 72.

He began working under the marketing arm of the census to promote the importance of the count. He contacted public officials, universities and businesses in 14 counties to get the word out.

Today Forbes will shift gears and become a census enumerator, searching for residents who have not yet been counted.

“I have found that people are very receptive and friendly,” he said. “This is my first opportunity to go all over central Missouri.”

Although he is now 73, Forbes has not ruled out another term as a census worker 10 years hence.

“I would if I could,” he said.

Richard Ham: Making history with the census

Richard Ham believes his job will make a contribution to future history books.

As a 2010 census clerk, he puts together the packets, maps and other materials that enumerators need for the 10-year population assessment.

Ham, 30, seems to have the right temperament and attitude for the job. He likes to do things right the first time and said he appreciates the chance to work with others who have the same purpose.

“I like that we’re all working toward the same goal, and that's to count everyone," he said.

There can be a downside, though — a few people can be rude or uncooperative.

Most residents, however, understand the count needs to be done and has been done for 230 years, said Ham, who lives in Boonville.

In 10 years, when it's time to conduct the next census, would he do it again?


Stephanie Brightwell: Fulfilling a need to help

Stephanie Brightwell, 26, recently finished her stint with the U.S. Census Bureau, spending up to nine hours a day in rural Missouri checking the information on census forms.

Most of the people were friendly, she said. One couple even invited her in for tea.

Brightwell applied to participate in the census after her grandmother mentioned the bureau was hiring, and it fit her interest in social service.

She took the 50-question test required of applicants, was hired a few weeks later and soon began training for field work.

Brightwell spent a week learning the script to read when introducing herself and the procedures to follow when a house was empty or she couldn't communicate with residents.

A recent Truman State University graduate with degrees in anthropology and sociology, Brightwell said she understands the need for the government to have accurate information.

"I felt like it was productive, useful and interesting to be a part of that project," she said.

Dorothy Perfecto: Experience counts

Hundreds of new workers were hired to complete the 2010 census, but Dorothy Perfecto, 59, is a seasoned veteran.

During the 2000 census count, she worked as a job recruiter. After everyone was hired, she was assigned to review the information gathered by census workers in various communities.

For the 2010 census, she is a crew leader and oversees 14 quality-control workers.

Her first assignment was updating the list of addresses found on computer-generated maps. She supervised a crew that canvassed Camden, Cole, Miller and Morgan counties to find places missing on the maps.

"Houses burn down, houses get built, trailers get pulled out or moved in, so you still have to go out there and add those,” she said.

Beginning today, her crew will start knocking on doors to find residents who have not returned their forms.

“You meet lots of nice people,” she said of her visits, although a few didn't go so well.

"They slam the door in your face, but you just have to tell them to have a nice day," she said. "They are going to get another knock on the door later; it’s the law, so eventually they are going to have to do it.”

Missourian reporters Ally Anderson, Jessica Stephens and Christiana Nielson contributed to this report.

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Toni Messina April 1, 2010 | 8:49 a.m.

Please note: April 1 is the target date for returning mail-in forms. You can keep mailing them back, even after April 1. I just checked the Census Bureau's online participation rate map, and Columbia is at 56%, up from 54% yesterday. Boone County is at 57%, up from 55%. We really need to work on central city (including University and colleges); northeast corridor; and south central. Many rural "outstate" counties are outpacing us...they're already in the low - mid 60 percents.
Toni Messina, City of Columbia

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