There are little triumphs. For the first time ever, the city has set aside money to remove lead paint from older inner-city homes and to screen children for lead poisoning - a real danger for an estimated 6,000 to 18,000 Philadelphia children. The item is in the current budget proposal, but Yanoff wants more dollars.
Yanoff also prods the bureaucracy into recognizing its shortcomings. Health centers, she says, must be open beyond the usual 9-to-5 hours to accommodate children of working-poor parents who can't afford to skip work for a doctor's visit. Recreation centers must be open on holidays - rather than closed:
"There used to be oases where kids could go. I remember escaping to the library. Now it's closed."
And then there is the new morbidity - the three-way threat of drugs, infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases which are encroaching on the young.
In testimony before City Council on the Health Department budget, arguing for 30 more community health outreach workers - rather than cutting 20, as the administration proposed - Yanoff pointed to sharp increases in venereal diseases among children. Gonorrhea increased 75.6 percent among children under 10 between 1986 and 1987, and syphilis increased approximately 44 percent among teens.
And there are other issues, which Yanoff speaks of with the clarity and concern of someone who knows the territory well, but is not weary of it - the juvenile justice system, which tends to lock up "bad" kids, instead of trying to turn their lives around.
Her knowledge and her supply of pamphlets and literature seem endless.
"Every study shows that by the third grade, you can identify who will drop out in the ninth grade," she says. "If we know that - what can we do to identify them and make a difference?"
We'd better start doing it, she adds, but there is so much to do, that for many - the enormity of the problem becomes immobilizing.
But not for Shelley Yanoff.
"I've learned to accept that change is a process, not an event," she says.
At this time of year, when graduations and weddings swell our hearts with pride in the accomplishments of our young, we would do well to join Shelly Yanoff's process of change, and to heed her words, which are not so much a warning as a statement of fact:
"Ill-housed, ill-fed and ill-educated kids ain't gonna build a decent society," she declares. "A lot of people have given up - they don't have any hope."
What hopeless parents and kids will do is create a continuing burden on our overburdened public and private resources, and in many cases, wreak havoc on society with the boundless rage that is the inevitable end product of hopelessness and despair.
Which is why the needs of children in need should be highlighted as we celebrate our best and brightest, the fortunate ones who will grasp not just a diplomas but all life's possibilities as they strut proudly across auditoriums and stages throughout the region.
But highlighting the problem is just the first step. Step 2 is acting on your concerns - by contributing your money and perhaps your time to the effort to open up possibilities for disadvantaged children, those whose lives are being stunted by the multiple ills of poverty, homelessness, inadequate health care, drugs, premature parenthood and so on.
Where to begin? A few possibilities are listed below:
* Donate books or new toys to the Stenton Family Center - the city-operated shelter for homeless families. Better yet, volunteer to read a book to a child there. There is no formal volunteer program, but Yanoff notes that women and children placed there "need someone to talk to, to pay attention." Call the Office of Services to the Homeless 686-6776.
* Organize your church or organization to become part-time foster parents, who provide "respite care" for struggling families of children with multiple problems, such as physical or emotional handicaps. "Many more families would survive rather than break down, if they knew there were places to lean," says Yanoff - or the promise of a break, a day or weekend of rest.
* Sign on as a volunteer in Yanoff's PCCY program to register eligible low- income youngsters for Medicaid - which can provide them with regular health checkups, eyeglasses, hearing aids and even braces - FREE - if their parents sign them up. This is low-impact high-value volunteerism, according to Yanoff, which involves distributing flyers and registration cards to parents when they bring little ones to kindergarten.
Fifty percent of eligible children aren't registered because their parents aren't aware they are eligible.
If you speak Spanish or an Asian language, your help is especially needed.
* Join an advocacy or legislative committee at PCCY. Involvement by companies, organizations and individuals is needed and encouraged. Call 563-5848.
* For a rundown on youth agencies and other organizations that need your support as a volunteer, call The Volunteer Connection, at 568-6360.