PATERSON, NJ - Whether it was five little ducks or their 10 fingers and toes, the children at Greater Bergen Community Action’s Eastside Head Start preschool showed that their counting was on point.
However, the young students, as well as their parents, teachers, and other community leaders that gathered together on Thursday were told by Mayor Andre Sayegh that the number everyone in Paterson has to be aiming for is 150,000.
With response rates to the once-a-decade U.S. Census low in both the 2010 and 2000 efforts Sayegh, and a large group of volunteers that make up Paterson’s Complete Count Committee, are determined to get in right in 2020, and while counting doesn’t begin until March, efforts have been underway since the summer of 2018.
The launch of “We Count,” a book that tells the story of Maria, Patience, Sami, Frankie, and six other fictional children, was yet another step in a strategy that takes special aim at Paterson’s youngest residents, from birth to five years old. That age group, Sayegh reminded, are traditionally among the hardest to count.
Lisa Bernstein heads up simply put, a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a mission to bring books and engaged learning experiences to ‘neglected markets,’ and told TAPinto Paterson the first run of 11,000 books is just the first step in making sure that all members of “complicated families in complex situations” are counted.
The book and educational campaign has been funded by the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, The Nicholson Foundation, The Turrell Foundation, The Burke Foundation, and The Dodge Foundation, and was the brainchild of Melissa Litwin.
As Sayegh thumbed through the book and read portions to the children gathered in front of him Bernstein shared that the characters in the pages represented families from Bangladesh, Brazil, Liberia, and more, and a quick glance shows that the “complex situations” she mentioned earlier include foster children living with temporary families, grandparents raising grandchildren, and more.
This component of the Paterson Counts campaign, Bernstein said, is about more than just the book, it’s about “training trusted advisers,” such as educators and childcare providers to help increase the count and achieve what few will disagree is Paterson’s rightful place as a Class 1 city, or one with a population of more than 150,000.
That designation, Sayegh has said repeatedly, means additional funding for the city, including for roads improvement, education infrastructure, and healthcare services. It also, he reminded those gathered, helps to make sure Paterson is well represented politically in Washington, D.C.
Among the parents gathered was Juana Beato, her daughter four-year-old daughter, Aida, one of the students that work “We Count” tshirts and managed to get the adults in the room to tap their toes and sing along to the exploits of the little ducks.
Admitting that she was one of the, perhaps, tens of thousands of Patersonians that weren’t counted in 2010 Beato assured that she wouldn’t let that happen again in 2020.
“I didn’t think it was important, it was just paper,” she said. “Now I realize,” she said mimicking Sayegh’s talking point that “more people means more resources.”
Asked what she’s willing to do to help Paterson’s outcome Beato said that she will volunteer to go door-to-door. “People shouldn’t be scared to respond,” she concluded.
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