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Q&A: Carroll County’s census chair Don Rowe on importance of an accurate count, participation, the impact of the coronavirus

From left, Laura Russell, Carroll County's census coordinator, Don Rowe, chair of the county's complete count committee, and Lynda Eisenberg, the county's planning director, brief the county commissioners on local efforts regarding the U.S. Census.
From left, Laura Russell, Carroll County's census coordinator, Don Rowe, chair of the county's complete count committee, and Lynda Eisenberg, the county's planning director, brief the county commissioners on local efforts regarding the U.S. Census. (Carroll County government screengrab)

Don Rowe is well-known in the community as the executive director of the The Arc Carroll County, a nonprofit whose mission is to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their individual pursuit of a fulfilling life. He has worked at The Arc since 1991 and has been in his current role since 2007.

But Rowe, who grew up in Ellicott City, graduated from Elizabethtown College, received a master’s degree in special education from McDaniel College and an MBA from Frostburg State University, has taken on another role for the past year or so.

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Don Rowe
Don Rowe (Submitted photo, Carroll County Times)

He is the chair of Carroll Counts, the county’s complete count committee for the 2020 U.S. Census. The Times caught up with Rowe to talk about this role, why the census is important to Carroll countians, and how the count has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Q: How did you get involved with Carroll Counts?  

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A: I received a phone call from Roberta Windham, county administrator, asking if I’d like to join and chair the committee.

Q: How much preparation was done ahead of Census Day and how did you find working with representatives from so many disparate Carroll organizations?  

A: The Complete Count committee is made up of over 40 representatives ranging from county government, local towns and municipalities, media, library, business, nonprofits, religious, and education. It is a very impressive group of people that work well together and above all want Carroll County to have the highest count possible. I really enjoy working with this talented group, the ideas and energy they demonstrate at each meeting is inspiring. The group has met several times prior to Census Day and several sub-work groups were formed to better target low-response populations such as citizens who are homeless and members of the Hispanic community. I also want to add that Lynda Eisenberg, director of planning, Laura Russell, census coordinator, and Chris Winebrenner, communications manager, are simply the best and make my job easy.

Q: Why is getting an accurate count in the 2020 census so important for Carroll County?  

A: Over 10 years, the County receives $18,500 per person counted. The count helps to determine funding and resource allocation for things like libraries, public health and safety, along with many nonprofit organizations whose funding is derived from the census count, along with how many Congressional representatives we’ll have in Washington. 

Q: Census Day was April 1, but by then we were dealing with COVID-19. How has the pandemic affected plans to get everyone counted?  

A: We were building momentum through many targeted announcements, events, activities, then the pandemic hit and our attention turned to dealing with this historic virus. The goal was to make sure citizens understood the importance of the census. The replies have been coming in slower, so we are hopeful we can regain some of the momentum we lost to get a complete count of our citizens.

Q: The census is being done online for the first time. Does that present a particular challenge in this area?  

A: I think there is general fear these days regarding anything you need to fill out online. It has been a relatively small obstacle, although we have some areas in our county that don’t have good internet capabilities, so that is a challenge. I would like to add that completing the census online is safe and easy.  

Q: What would you say to someone who has yet to compete the census, perhaps out of fear?  

A: Think of your favorite nonprofit organization, or a time you had to rely on a public service, now think about how they will benefit from the $18,500 they will receive from you taking 10 minutes of your time to answer 10 questions. I hope everyone feels that it a good use of their time while they are sheltering in place or taking a break from watching “The Tiger King.”

Q: Nearly two months in, is there any way to know how Carroll County doing in terms of the census?  

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A: As of May 7, we are leading the state of Maryland with a 74.1% response rate. Overall, Maryland has a 62% response rate. In 2010, Carroll County led the state with an 83% response rate. I’d love to beat that number.

Q: Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask, how has the pandemic affected your “real” job at The Arc?  

A: We are managing, thanks to many wonderful staff members. It was a terrible disruption of services to the people we support and their families when we had to close our day program and limit some services. Thanks to our amazing direct service professionals for keeping the people we support in our residential and support home safe and healthy. Also, several of the people The Arc supports in our employment program are essential employees going to work everyday in grocery stores, nursing homes, the hospital and convenience stores.  

Currently, we are in the midst of providing remote services, and recently launched a virtual day program to connect with people while our day program is closed. We are starting the conversation about how we are going to reopen. I am thankful for the many wonderful donations of PPE from the Health Department and our board members and local citizens who dropped off masks and other supplies.

Carroll County is a wonderful place. And I would like to end by saying if you haven’t filled out the census do it today.

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