This I Know: Renewal

American asks four wonks to weigh in on a single topic 

Illustra­tion by
Traci Daberko

Illustrated sand in an hourglass, skyscrapers as vegetables, equality sign, and a house being lowered onto another with a crane

Josh Kaplan, CAS/BA ’11, Kogod/MS ’14

To tackle something as colossal as climate change, we must think critically about what it means to renew. How can we renew not only our planetary systems, but our society, communities, and ourselves? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have about a decade left to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change—some of which we already experience today.

As an AU student, I worked with the Office of Sustainability. This experience opened a window into how a community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni could strive toward collective impact and inspired me to make a career out of driving this type of change.

Now, I have the privilege of working with some of the world’s largest companies as they look to procure their energy from the wind, sun, and other renewable sources. To solve the climate crisis, we need to embrace the idea of renewal at all levels—from individuals to institutions. Only by working together can we ensure a prosperous, renewed future.

Kaplan is an education and engagement manager with the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.

Lauren Kruglinski, SIS/BA ’12

In 2010, I studied abroad in Ghana. Accra was colorful and bustling, and I loved it. But I quickly learned that my vision for myself as a multicultural diplomat wasn’t going to work out.

I returned to DC feeling broken and lost. I dropped out of AU for a semester and picked up a babysitting job watching two girls.

On a whim, I took them to a free event at City Blossoms’ Girard Garden in Columbia Heights. As we walked through a hot, concrete-covered playground, a lush urban oasis appeared. We cut flowers and made mint lemonade, and for the first time in months, I felt a deep sense of place and purpose. I buried my hands in the soil, sat in the shade of an apple tree, and felt a light in my heart rekindle.

Renewal only begins when you nourish your soul. City Blossoms’ urban gardens attract people just like me after my return from Ghana—people who are struggling but ready to renew their spirit through a connection to the earth and their community.

Kruglinski is the director of operations with DC’s City Blossoms.

Dane Grams, SPA/BA ’93

A big part of my job at Human Rights Campaign is inspiring and nudging people—often several times—to renew their annual donation. This recommitment to our work is crucial to fulfilling our mission. It also takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. 

Most donors don’t want to lapse. They want to be involved and remain committed to our work, but they lead busy lives, and it is increasingly difficult to get their attention. But what if we could create a culture in which people didn’t have to renew and always kept their membership current?

Two decades ago, we introduced our monthly giving program, creating a new organizational culture in which the large majority of our revenue—now nearly 60 percent of individual giving—comes from sustainers. 

Why does this matter? Predictability, stability, efficiency, and the ability to get stuff done.

The best part is, it’s one less thing for our members to worry about. 

So next time you contribute to a worthy cause, consider making a monthly gift so you can enjoy a constant state of renewal. 

Grams is the membership director for Human Rights Campaign.

Mike Bader, CAS professor

Americans perpetually succeed by seeking renewal. Men and women have fought to refresh the meaning of our national creed that “all men are created equal.” We have grown closer to that creed through the actions of those who fought slavery, sexism, and bigotry.

But renewal is also used by the powerful to undermine the powerless. Wealthy property owners and commercial real estate developers use renewal as a rhetorical device to justify displacement, often discarding neighborhoods’ rich histories.

Recent efforts in DC and elsewhere seek to bring people “back to the city,” ignoring the hundreds of thousands who never left. Business and political institutions seek to bring the well-off back to renew neighborhoods—yet those same institutions created the conditions that led to the perceived need for renewal.

Residents of neighborhoods targeted for renewal won’t be served through stasis, but renewing the District must include those directly affected. This means altering the distribution of power. If done right, we can renew the city to be a more vibrant and inclusive one.

Bader teaches sociology and is associate director of SPA’s Metropolitan Policy Center.