The commercialization of the holidays has come to this: A mad dash to the finish line, full of endless rounds of shopping, requisite gift-giving, marathon baking. Oh, and did I mention trying to squeeze it in while working full-time? That's the neatest trick.

But now that it's here, now that the gifts are being unwrapped and the meal will be scarfed down, now that the budget is blown and the credit card's maxed out, I can't help but feel a little empty - much like my bank account.

Broke and unfulfilled can't be the reasons for the season.

Barbara Greenspan Shaiman agrees. And the Bala Cynwyd life coach, entrepreneur, social activist, and author thinks she's found a better way to extend the act of giving, for a lifetime.

"Instead of buying, why not give back?" Shaiman asks. "Instead of flaunting material possessions, flaunt your humanity. Flaunt your heart."

For almost 15 years, Shaiman has done just that through Champions of Caring, the nonprofit she founded that empowers young people to turn their passions into community service.

Through it 10,000 kids from throughout the Philadelphia region have volunteered 750,000 hours of service to their communities.

And I'm not just talking about no-brainer projects like picking up litter. I'm talking about social advocacy and entrepreneurship - projects that speak to youths' passions.

Like the Main Line fashionista who designed T-shirts to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur. The West Philly visionary who created a literacy program at her church when she noticed her young cousins being thoughtlessly promoted in elementary school though they couldn't read. The Latino artist in North Philly who taught salsa dancing to nearby nursing home residents who once felt threatened by him.

After her success with Champions of Caring, Shaiman, 61, wondered, "What if I could inspire adults to do this? What if I could create legacy clubs so adults could give their skills and passion to do something sustainable?"

A guide to caring

So Shaiman wrote

Live Your Legacy Now! Ten Simple Steps to Find Your Passion and Change the World

to help adults live their own legacies by creating projects for purpose and social change.

Not assigned projects. Projects of their own.

"If you impose something on someone that's not their issue, it won't get done," Shaiman says. "But if a person is worried about how pets are being treated and creates a project for them, it's coming from a place that really resonates in your heart."

Shaiman has always loved children, which is why she started her career teaching and created Champions of Caring. But from the beginning, her parents, Carola and Henry Greenspan, both Holocaust survivors, instilled in her a fierce passion for humanity.

The Nazis killed off Carola's entire family, including her parents, two brothers and a sister, at Auschwitz. Out of 65 family members, Carola, 88, is the sole survivor.

Henry, who died last year at 89, worked for Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved 1,200 Jewish employees at his metalworking factory in Poland and was the subject of the Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List.

"Since my parents lived through such heinous crimes," Shaiman says, "they felt that [I] should be . . . more sensitive to the needs of other people."

Carola and Henry drummed home lessons of love and humanity into their two children. Respect diversity, they preached. Never be silent or indifferent. Fight evil with love and caring.

And above all, be a mensch.

Living her legacy

Joshua Greenspan, Shaiman's younger brother, took his parents' philosophy to heart and became a doctor. After her teaching stint, Barbara helped start a health-care executive-recruiting firm, all while raising a family.

She had accomplished much, but it wasn't enough. "I kept thinking, 'How can I live my family's legacy?' "

It was during a family trip to Auschwitz in 1989 that Shaiman had her epiphany. It outraged her that many older people still showed contempt and hatred for Jews, and taught their children how to hate, too. She returned to Philadelphia determined to teach young people how to care, not only for each other but for their entire community.

That inspiration led her to create Champions of Caring. And now - by working with the Philadelphia chapter of the Transition Network, for women 50 and over, to establish legacy clubs - she's aiming to do the same thing with adults.

Surely, hers are lessons we all can use during the next holiday season.

"Cut back on spending and push forward in giving on a much more deeper and emotional level," she says. "You'll find joy in your own life while making someone else's life better."

Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or ajohnhall@phillynews.com

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