Former CPA turned pastor receives $58,400 grant for 2020 census work
By Lindsay Peyton
Some of the very individuals served by McCabe Roberts Avenue UMC are also the ones at risk of being missed during the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau calls certain demographic groups “hard-to-count,” including people displaced by disaster, minorities, immigrants, low income families, those without access to computers and young children. Renters, non-English speakers and the homeless also fall into the category. Pastor Dr. Rodney Graves and his wife Ava are embarking on a mission to assure that all of their voices are heard – and are part of the once-a-decade count, which has the ability to shape the future in Texas, politically and economically.
McCabe Roberts Avenue UMC started getting the word out to the community about its role as a census site during the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade, which rolled through Beaumont on Feb. 8.
Normally, the church hands out water during the parade and invites visitors inside for a cup of cocoa. This year was a little different. In addition to the usual offerings, the church registered voter and provided census information.
McCabe Roberts Avenue UMC was recently recognized with a proclamation from the Mayor and City of Beaumont for enlisting as a census site.
The church also received a $58,400 grant for census work, which will make it possible the congregation to hire a volunteer coordinator, site coordinator and administrative assistant, as well as bilingual census takers. In addition, the award will cover the cost of additional computers and allow the church to host three, informative future community events.
Church leaders will also assist its elderly congregation members and neighbors in filling out the forms. In fact, one of the building’s halls will transition into a “count center” — open seven days a week and stocked with computers so individuals with limited internet access can still fill out the census forms.
Graves said his wife first sparked concerns about the census. “Ava is very community outreach-oriented,” Graves explained. “So, we reached out to a census representative to give us a presentation at the church.”
During the event, church members learned about the importance of the census – and about populations that fall through the cracks.
“There are language barriers – and there’s also mistrust of the government,” Graves said. “There are people who worry that if they give information, and they’re not legal, that they could get kicked out.”
The importance of the census can get lost in these fears, Graves explained. The census was deemed so important by the founding fathers that they mandated it as part of the Constitution. Ever since 1790, the U.S. has counted its population every 10 years. The tally is essential to representative democracy, because the results determine the number of seats each state receives in Congress.
In addition, the census helps drive the distribution of public funds and services, shaping healthcare, transportation, education and law enforcement.
After hearing the census representative speak, McCabe Roberts immediately signed up to help. “We agreed that day to be a census site,” Graves said. “By the following Tuesday, Ava got information that a grant was available too, but the application was due in four days.”
Fortunately, Graves had experience writing grants from his days as a CPA before joining seminary. He was up for the task. “It turns out that we were the only ones who got the grant,” he said.
The funding provided will help tremendously, Graves said. The census work begins in March. Graves said that the church will connect with official groups that have credibility in the community, as well as individuals who influence their neighbors.
“We need to identify not just organizers, but the people of power, the people in the community who other folks listen to,” Graves said. “They don’t have titles; they don’t have positions. They may not even have money, but people listen to them. We need people in the community who have grassroots connections.”
The church census takers will reach out to diverse populations, including homeless groups. “We’ll put rubber to the ground,” Graves said.
He wants to help serve as a voice for the poor in Beaumont — and believes that the end to generational poverty could be reached through collaborative efforts. “No single entity can do it alone,” he said.
The census could be a first step in properly counting the population so they can be better served, Graves explained.
McCabe Roberts Avenue was the first United Methodist Church to merge a predominately Black congregation with a mainly white church about 25 years ago in Beaumont. Originally, the congregations were established as Roberts Avenue UMC in 1901 and McCabe Methodist in 1903.
Now, with the combined membership, McCabe Roberts Avenue UMC is able to do more cutting-edge ministry than ever before. “Our focus is to be intentionally inclusive,” Graves said. “We make efforts to be authentic with each other, to know each other, love each other and expand our understanding.”
The Census can also help build better understanding and therefore promote greater equality. “We’re excited to be a part of something that can make a difference,” Graves said.
Everything is centered on building relationships, the pastor added. “We’re approaching people like Jesus did, which is to recognize a common humanity,” he said. “Our focus is on changing lives and reshaping the future for Jesus Christ.”
For more information about McCabe Roberts Avenue UMC, visit mccaberobertsumc.com.