These Girl Scouts want YOU…to fill out the Census. Some may have noticed a large sign as they drive or take a bus past old Neponsit Nursing Home near Riis Park saying #Census2020. The sign serves as a little reminder to those in Rockaway to fill out the 2020 Census if they haven’t yet. The sign comes as a project from local Girl Scout Troop 4426 in an effort to make Rockaway count.
As part of their project to achieve the Bronze Award, the highest award a Girl Scout junior can earn, Troop 4426 decided to bring awareness to something that affects everyone—the 2020 Census. To earn the Bronze Award, the girls had to identify a problem in the community, create a sustainable project to help improve the community, and dedicate 20 hours each to making it happen.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the girls were working on a project to create a ball-free zone in their schoolyard at P.S. 114. However, when schools were closed and social distancing came into play, they had to change gears and start from scratch. These eight 10- and 11-year-old girls— Zoe, Sabella, Alia, Domenica, Tegan, Nicole, Francesca and Madison, along with their troop leaders, Christy Kakanakis, Anne-Marie Ruggiero-Miller and Brooke Pompeo —got to thinking.
“We noticed that we weren’t getting a lot of money for problems in Rockaway and with the Census, you get money for 10 years and now’s our chance to get more. Not enough people in Rockaway fill out the Census,” Zoe said. “We’re undercounted and if we get enough money, we can protect our beach to prevent erosion and we need money for hospitals and playgrounds,” Sabella said.
So they decided to bring awareness to the 2020 Census. The girls held meetings online to discuss their approach and came up with various ways to let their neighbors know about the Census. The biggest part of the project was to create a large sign to place in a prominent location. Working individually, the girls used oak tag to decorate each letter for their large sign at home. When the letters were finished, their troop leaders brought them to Staples in Woodhaven to be laminated, so the letters wouldn’t be damaged in poor weather. After hearing about the project, Staples laminated two of the letters free of charge and the girls chipped in some of their money from cookie sales to help pay for the other letters.
Originally, the deadline to fill out the Census was the end of December. It was then pushed back to October 31 and most recently, the deadline was changed to September 30, so time is of the essence.
Last week, the girls hung up their sign in a spot they knew would get some attention. “A lot of people go to Riis Park and we knew that it was a popular place in Rockaway. And the bus stop is there and people drive by there so we figured it would be a big place for more people to see it and spread the word,” the girls said. After getting permission from the owners of the old Neponsit Nursing Home property, the girls hung up their sign on the fence for all of Rockaway to see.
Almost immediately, they learned that not everyone knows what the Census is. After a misunderstanding, the sign was removed overnight by a security guard for the property. After speaking with him, the girls explained the purpose of the sign. “We talked to the security guard and he didn’t know what the Census was, so we really need to get the word out,” Zoe said. Luckily, the guard had the sign and it was immediately replaced.
Doing their project, the girls have learned that many others don’t know what the Census is. As part of their project, the girls have compiled lists of 15 names of people to ask to fill it out. “I asked my older brother living in Long Island and he had no idea what the Census was,” Zoe said.
And those people are not alone. As the September 30 Census deadline quickly approaches, many have still not filled it out. At this week’s Community Board 14 meeting, it was announced that only 58% of Queens residents have filled out the Census so far and Queens stands to lose two congressional representatives and heavy funding for local communities over the next 10 years.
To bring even more awareness to this important duty, the girls expanded their project by creating smaller signs to hang on trees, and even decorated seashells with messages, which they’ve placed around the neighborhood. Among some of the messages are “Every person counts. 2020 Census,” “Don’t be left out, take the census” and “10 Questions, 10 Minutes, 10 years,” reminding Americans to fill out the quick 10 question form online.
The girls hope that their effort brings awareness and encourages more people to fill out the Census if they haven’t yet. “I really hope that we can get people to fill out the Census and we can be counted because we need some money to help the community,” the girls said.
Troop leaders Kakanakis and Ruggiero-Miller are proud of the girls’ efforts. “They faced so many hurdles, especially with Covid, but I’m so proud of them for pulling this off,” Kakanakis said. “Over the summer, they really missed each other but they got together through Zoom and would share their signs and ideas together and it was nice to see them so dedicated. They know this is their time to be counted and I’m so proud of them,” Ruggiero-Miller said.
To find out more or to fill out the Census, head to www.2020census.gov
By Katie McFadden
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