Adina Lichtman is not your average college student. This devoted do-gooder is out to change the world – one pair of socks at a time.
She is the founder of an unusual nonprofit, Knock Knock Give a Sock, which encourages schools, college dorms, and apartment buildings to reach out to one another in order to collect something both desperately needed and easy for most of us to spare: a pair of gently worn socks. In just over a year, Knock Knock Give a Sock has recruited dozens of communities and collected thousands of pairs of socks for homeless shelters.
We tracked Adina down to find out a bit more about her particular brand of do-gooding – and what advice she has for other young people who are trying to change the world.
You've said that Knock Knock Give a Sock came really listening to the needs of homeless people. What role does listening play in your work now?
This was the most powerful lesson I learned in my whole life, it was what lead the creation of KKGAS. I was handing out sandwiches to people experiencing homelessness thinking this was what they wanted or needed, when one man approached me. "It's great that you're giving out sandwiches,” he said, “but one thing we really need is socks, especially as winter approaches." Here I was, sandwiches in hand, assuming I knew the best way to help people. In reality, helping is about listening, and hearing the needs of different communities. It was a powerful lesson and is so applicable to so many places in my life. I am Social Work Student, and I have clients at a women’s homeless shelter who come in all the time talking to me about their current situations. And now before I give any advice, I always make sure to ask “What would you like me to help you with today?” I have found it to be super empowering and extremely effective in regards to really making others feel valued and heard. It is also a great way in general to have this mindset when it comes to helping people, when I see someone crying on a subway or a friend who has had a bad day, my first reaction now is to ask how I can help, and many times the answer is just to listen…
You're doing a lot – studying at NYU, volunteering, running a nonprofit… How do you keep yourself organized?
Who says I keep myself organized?… Haha I believe that there is a lot of trial and error that takes place whenever one takes on a project like this. For a long time I felt super overwhelmed and did not know how to delegate jobs to make KKGAS easier for myself. Between classes, being involved in Jewish life on campus and teaching at Hebrew School I found it very difficult to find enough time for KKGAS in regards to making it an organization that would grow and be sustainable. In the last 2 months we have put together a team of interns and team members who are now dedicated to making KKGAS grow to its full potential. I have successfully learnt how to delegate… or at least I am starting to get the hang of it, Ha! And am much more confident in the future of KKGAS moving forward.
What makes you smile?
Ah. SO many things make me smile. However I think what makes me smile the most is talking to strangers. Strange as it may seem, it is my dream to create Ice Breakers on subway trains and elevators. We all have so much to learn from each other. I’d love to create opportunities for more strangers to interact, because that’s something that makes me smile. That’s why Knock Knock Give A Sock is such a great platform for meeting your neighbors!
What one piece of advice would you give to your fellow young Jews and others who want to change the world?
Don’t change it alone. We as Jews are especially fortunate to have so many young people in our community who are so ready to help and engage with the world in a meaningful way. No one has ever changed the world single-handedly, however collaboratively we have made strides. The civil rights movement didn’t happen with just one person. If we work together we will be more effective and light the world up so bright!! My advice is to make doing good cool. The way to make it cool is to make it a trend. The way to make it a trend is to get others on board! Create platforms where everyone on around you is able to hop on board to do good.
Adina is one of 17 speakers presenting their “inspired Jewish ideas” at this season’s production of ELI Talks, to be filmed at WTTW11 in Chicago, June 16, 17, and 18. Grab tickets to be part of the studio audience and catch her talk, “The Circle of Light: How to Do Good." Tickets are $18. Use the code SEE3 for 50% off!