Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LILBURN -- Fifth-graders at Hopkins Elementary School were sworn in Wednesday as census 2010 ambassadors.

"Go to every house in your neighborhood," Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional census manager of the U.S. Census Bureau, told the students. "Tell your neighbors, 'You count, and you must be counted.' Tell them to complete the questionnaire and put it in the mail today."

Officials from the U.S. Census Bureau visited the Lilburn school to talk to the students about the importance of filling out the census. Today is Census Day, the first deadline for submitting completed census forms.

Hopkins Elementary School is symbolic of the diversified community the Census Bureau has been targeting with this year's count, said Manuel Landivar, assistant regional census manager of the U.S. Census Bureau. Historically, minority populations, particularly immigrants, have a low participation in the census.

"We want to break that trend," Landivar said. "We want to bring the message to our kids. Marketing companies will tell you the influence that they have with parents in getting to buy products. Why not do that with the census?"

The census is a count of everyone residing in the United States, and the U.S. Constitution requires a national census every 10 years.

Every year, the federal government can allocate more than $300 billion to states and communities based in part on census data. Census information helps determine locations for schools, roads, hospitals, job training, child care, senior citizen centers and more. Census data also determine how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the boundaries of legislative districts.

"For a number of reasons, we need an exact count. Census helps us do that," Gwinnett County Chairman Charles Bannister told the students. "It is vitally important that we get the census as near as possible for the benefit of us all."

Brent Jones, 11, said he plans to talk to several people about the census, "My mom, my brother, my sisters, and, most of all, my neighbors."

"I want everyone to know how we're going to fix our community," he said.