LA FERIA, Texas – Noble Texas Builders are doing their part to help grow the census count in the Rio Grande Valley by co-funding a novel scholarship program.
RGV Census Ambassador Scholarship provides $1,000 scholarships to Valley students attending high school, vocational school or college.
To earn a scholarship the students have to get family, friends and community members to complete their Census 2020 form.
“As a region, we need to get counted,” said Rene Capistran, president and CEO of La Feria-based Noble Texas Builders. “We need to educate the community about the importance of the census. Our goal is to engage with students and get the word out. We are taking a proactive approach.”
Noble Texas Builders provides general contracting, design-build and construction management services. Much of its census outreach work is focused on the hard-to-count areas, which are communities that historically have a low participation rate in the census.
On that front the company is helping organize a free barbecue in Port Isabel this evening, San Benito on Friday evening, and Santa Rosa on Saturday lunchtime. If local residents have completed the census questionnaire or can provide proof of census competition they will receive two free BBQ plates per household.
To ensure safety in these COVID times, local residents are asked to remain in their vehicles and wear facial coverings. RGV Census Ambassador volunteers will be available to assist with the 2020 Census and BBQ plagues will be brought to the vehicle.
The Port Isabel event takes place at Port Isabel High School from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20. Partners for the event include the City of Port Isabel, Port Isabel High School, Cameron County, the City of Laguna Vista, and the City of South Padre Island.
According to the Census Bureau’s self-response rate tracking map, 31.0 percent of Port Isabel residents have filled out their census forms. The Texas average is 59.2 percent. Laguna Heights, a colonia next to Port Isabel is not registered on the tracking map because it is unincorporated. According to corona community groups, the self-response rate in Laguna Heights could be as low as ten percent.
The San Benito event takes place at the Cameron County Annex Building, which is located at 1390 West I-69E, San Benito. The even runs from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 21. Partners for the event include San Benito schools, Cameron County, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Benito.
According to the Census Bureau’s self-response rate tracking map, 47.2 percent of San Benito residents have filled out their census forms. However, there are colonias just outside of San Benito that likely have a much lower self-response rate. These are not included in the tracking map.
The Santa Rosa event takes place at Santa Rosa High School from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 22. Partners for the event include the City of Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa High School, and Cameron County.
According to the Census Bureau’s self-response rate tracking map, 24.8 percent of Santa Rosa residents have filled out their census forms.
“These three are hard to count areas in Cameron County where we have not gotten the self-response rate we would like,” Capistran said. That is why we are involving the school districts. They are so important to this effort.”
RGV Census Ambassador Scholarship was started by Thelma Tamez and Sarah Hammond. They identified four goals for the initiative:
Educate students about the importance of the U.S. Census
Engage students to become Ambassadors for the U.S. Census with their families, friends and neighbors
Increase U.S. Census completion for the Rio Grande Valley, by achieving a 70 percent completion rate
Provide scholarship opportunities for students
“Historically, the Rio Grand Valley has been undercounted in the U.S. decennial census. It is estimated the Rio Grande Valley is undercounted by as many as 300,000 persons,” Tamez said.
“Ensuring we get an accurate count in 2020 will guarantee our region is fairly represented in Congress and the Texas Legislature, will provide our region with increased visibility and a louder voice in decisions and policy making, and will ensure that we receive our fair share of the billions in federal and state funding over the next ten years,” Hammond said.
Tamez and Hammond calculate that if the Valley is accurately counted the region could gain as much as $473 million annually or $4.7 billion over the next ten years.
RGV Census Ambassador Scholarship has partners with the Valley Alliance for Mentors Opportunity and Scholarship (VAMOS), a registered 501(c)(3) organization, to serve as the custodian of the funds and ensure all contributions are considered a charitable donation.
“We have been working with the RGV Census Ambassador Scholarship program Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr counties, not only for our own county, Cameron,” Capistran said. “We are helping raise the money so we can raise the awareness.”
Capistran said he has been in conference calls with school superintendents to get buy-in for the RGV Census Ambassador Scholarship project. Next on the list is buy-in from school principals.
“With only a few weeks left to count everyone, we have to get creative now. We are in a position we have never been before. The challenge has never been greater,” Capistran said.
Ramiro Garza of Noble Texas Builders said major employers in the Valley can also play their part in getting a high self-response rate for Census 2020. “We have to count everybody to make sure the needs of our community are taken care of. That should of concern to all employers. We have to engage with them,” Garza said.
Asked if the recent memorandum from President Trump about stopping undocumented immigrants from filling out a census form was having a detrimental impact on his efforts to get families to complete the questionnaire, Capistran said:
“Absolutely. Without a doubt. One of the participants said, we need people that are respected in the community. How do we get past the fear that, if I get counted, they will come and do something to me. It is certainly hampering our efforts.”