OUTREACH & ADVOCACY: Census and Youth Mentoring Program

Samantha Sekellick

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The City of Gaithersburg often partners with local nonprofits to reach out to our diverse community. For several years, Gaithersburg has been listed as the country’s most diverse small City in the United States. To promote participation in the 2020 Census, we partnered with Liberty’s Promise to offer a collaborative poster workshop as part of its civics engagement program for high school students in ESOL 3 at Gaithersburg High School. Liberty’s Promise helps immigrant youth become successful, confident, and prepared to reach their American dreams.

Our vision was to offer workshops in English and Spanish that would engage, inspire and attract the next generation of local citizens while giving them the necessary tools to create outreach materials to promote census participation in their diverse communities. The participants in this program were from Central and South America.

As Graphics Specialist for the City, I led the workshops in December 2019. As a first-generation Latina U.S. immigrant and an award-winning graphic designer with teaching experience, I felt well-suited to connect with these young minds. I also served on the City’s Census Committee and led the branding of the “I am Gaithersburg, I Count” local census advertising campaign.

The workshop gave students a glimpse of what a career in graphic design in local government might look like by showing them examples of visual materials developed to promote local activities. Our program host was surprised to learn from my presentation that we hold an annual Native American powwow when he saw in the slides an example of one of my posters promoting it. Following the exploration of careers, my presentation focused on the Census: what it is and isn’t, why it’s conducted, its goals, and how it benefits the community. Students worked in groups to develop a design and brainstorm critical words to include in their posters. They had to think of graphics that evoked community, diversity, and inclusion. The interactive part of the workshop included tips and tricks to create effective posters and hands-on practice that reinforced a clear message and adherence to brand strategies. I set them up in groups and handed them sketching paper, markers, and a campaign logo in sticker form to brand their posters. The prompt was to think of a specific message related to how census data is used, why it’s important to be counted, and what’s at stake if you are not. They were encouraged to add flavor to their interpretation and collaborate to create the posters. We asked students to share what they learned in the workshop with their parents and community members, urging them to complete the 2020 Census.

Post Event

We documented the workshop and posted the images on social media, highlighting Liberty’s Promise and all participating students. We gathered more information and created a feature article in a special Census 2020 edition of our twice yearly inGaithersburg magazine. We mailed it to all households in the City of Gaithersburg (approximately 27,000), which helped us amplify the message and reach even more members of our diverse community.

A few students and program leaders from Liberty’s Promise participated in our census advertising campaign, spreading the message in their native languages through our PSAs, which were incorporated into the City’s website and shared widely on our social media accounts. Youth from the program were also featured on promotional posters at bus shelters in the City.

Building on what the students had learned during the Census workshop, they were invited to partner with Montgomery County Government at an outreach event at the Gaithersburg H-Mart (ethnic grocery store) in August 2020. The youth joined other volunteers to distribute gift bags and invited people to scan QR codes to access the Census survey and take 5 minutes to fill it out.

The Program as an Example of Cultural Diversity

We offered the workshop to young immigrant students in ESOL 3 at Gaithersburg High School who can build trust in their communities through their census outreach. Helping them get involved and be part of their community through civic engagement helps them overcome challenges they may face as they learn to navigate an unfamiliar system.

As quoted by Jenny Escobar, Program Officer with Liberty’s Promise, for the feature article in our inGaithersburg magazine,

“Many of the immigrant youth have, as many immigrants in the U.S. do, limitations by structural barriers in society that do not allow them to advocate for themselves or participate in democracy due to language barriers, cultural shock, and, sometimes, legal status. For young immigrants, the 2020 Census is an event that shows them that they count, they are heard, and they are important in the community. Our youth’s involvement in the process is a way to motivate and inspire others who have not been counted in the census before to make their voices heard. For them, this is a moment of walking over fear, breaking generational inequalities, and making themselves count as responsible citizens of the country that has welcomed them to study and embrace a new culture. Having immigrant youth involved in the 2020 Census is an opportunity for change for the most vulnerable and the community in its entirety.”

Through the City’s Census and Youth Mentoring workshop, they learned the necessary skills to communicate their census-related messages and the accessibility of local government.

Our Local Officials

The Gaithersburg Mayor and City Council are actively involved in Liberty’s Promise Civics Engagement program, attending meetings and addressing gatherings of students. A highlight of the Civics Engagement program is a tour of City Hall and a visit with the Mayor to ask questions and learn what important role they can play in local governance. Our elected officials also support the Liberty’s Promise program through an annual grant allocation administered by the City of Gaithersburg Community Services Division. Gaithersburg’s elected officials were active promoters of the Census, encouraging participation on social media and attending socially-distanced outreach events and critical locations frequented by our diverse population.


Recent immigrant youth are an important bridge between their parents and newly adopted communities. They often have the opportunity to acculturate more quickly and can convey crucial resources and information to their parents as they learn to navigate their new surroundings. Speaking to them in their language is necessary, demonstrating that their local government is willing to meet them where they are.

The City can play a critical part in helping them embrace their role as youth ambassadors by partnering with organizations to develop programs and projects that welcome them, solicit their input, and demonstrate that they have a voice that matters.