Imagine a tenement house on the east side. Small, often lightless and airless rooms, hot and stuffy, pervaded with the odor of cooking and washing and crowded humanity. Care and worry are constant boarders in such a home, and the terrible struggle for existence, the driving need for the mere essentials of living, permit for no member or such a family any joy, any diversion, any relaxation.
And imagine a young girl growing up in such and similar homes. A young girl with a hungry and eager heart, desperately desiring her share of the pleasure and the luxury which the great city spreads temptingly before her eyes, and yet not trained enough to earn all the things she longs for with the work of her hands or her mind. What will become of her? What will she do? She will either sink into a black and hopeless resignation, or she will go out and sell the one-thing she has to offer: Herself and her untutored youth. And when once she does this she is as good as doomed. For soon she will be branded as a wayward girl, soon she will become an inmate first of reformatories, then of workhouse and prison, soon she will develop into a menace to society, a burden to herself, ending in a misery and despair no one cares to contemplate.
How different the fate of such a girl could be if, before she was irretrievably lost to vice and crime, a wise and kind elder sister would take her by the hand and guide her out of the mazes of her tangled life unto the fair path of a purposeful and useful existence. But who would want to be such a sister to the stumbling and falling waifs of our streets?
Fortunately there are men and women in our midst who possess a sense of civic responsibility and a compassionate heart and who endeavor to help with kindness and understanding those unfortunates who would be lost without a supporting hand. These men and women have united in the various Big Brother and Sister Associations whose aim it is to do preventive and educational social work.
At the suggestion of the judge, Magistrate Sylvester Sabbatino, the Brooklyn Jewish Big Brother and Sister Association, of which Assemblyman Albert D. Schanzer is president, has just added to its activities by forming a Women’s Court Committee which will hold itself in readiness to take care of the case of any delinquent Jewish girl brought before the Women’s Court, and will endeavor to salvage such human material as is not hopelessly beyond cure. Miss Sylvia Haber, a clever and successful young lawyer, has been made chairman of this committee.
Miss Haber possesses every gift to succeed in the work she has undertaken. She has youth and grace and charm. She has a clever cool head and a kind warm heart. She is deeply interested in social welfare work. Even in college she gave her leisure hours to such activities. And she speaks to the young girls whom environment and faulty training have made first offenders, not with the harsh and forbidding voice of probation officer or matron, but with the sympathetic kindness and understanding of a friend.
MUST WIN CONFIDENCE
Miss Haber’s own words show best perhaps what she wishes to do and what she considers needful. “Those girls,” she said when interviewed in her Manhattan office, “can be saved if one takes the trouble to go about it in the right way. Mere preaching or scolding won’t do any good. One has to win their confidence, restore their self-respect, make them feel that one considers them not as a case but as individuals who have a claim on our sympathy.
“If every young woman who has time to spare would make herself available for such social work; if she would once a week take such a girl to a movie or in the park, lend her books or magazines, talk to her as a friend, help her to be trained in some definite useful occupation, and aid in procuring her work or a position, much splendid work could be accomplished.
“We must help the girls before the stigma of reformatory or prison has made a new start more difficult. We must try to understand their very legitimate desire for pretty clothes and amusements, but we must also show them that such things come as the reward of honest work and ought not to be bought with shame and degradation.
“No waste is so deplorable as the waste of human material, and I work to prevent such waste, and wish to enlist the help of all those who share my conviction that in the social field an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of punishment.”