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Aiming to help Pigtown's poorest


Kim Lane arrived in Baltimore with her Honda Civic stuffed with clothes and all the money she had in the world - $700 - in her pocket. She'd come from a small town in upstate New York and had never before seen a city the size of Baltimore.

Being a civic-minded woman, Lane gravitated toward the neediest parts of Baltimore. A decade after landing here, she is devoted to one of the city's grittiest, poorest neighborhoods: Pigtown.

She's known to colleagues as the Princess of Pigtown, a title she seems to have earned.

Last week, she started work as executive director for Paul's Place Outreach Center and soup kitchen, in the 1100 block of Ward St. in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood.

The part of her new job she most looks forward to is sitting with homeless folks and talking to them as they eat the free meals at Paul's Place. That's the best way to find out how to get them back on their feet, she said.

"It comes naturally to me," said Lane, 30. "Maybe it comes from being raised by a single mom in a struggling situation."

According to 1990 Census data, 48 percent of children younger than age 6 in Pigtown live below the poverty line, and 61 percent of adults were high school drop-outs.

Lane worked for 2 1/2 years at the Washington Village Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council in the 900 block of Washington Blvd., but took the new job last week because she wanted more interaction with the community.

Her passion lies in basic, hands-on community work in impoverished neighborhoods: serving a meal, planting a tree, organizing a literacy class.

She didn't do much face-to-face work with residents at the planning council, she said. Her work was mostly administrative.

At Paul's Place, founded 18 years ago, she plans to do plenty of one-on-one work.

"Paul's Place is step one for people to better their lives. The planning council is step two," she said. "I'm more comfortable with step one."

Both steps are vital in an area like Pigtown.

"I made a choice to work in this part of the city. What I love about this neighborhood is the history," Lane said. "If your grandmother lived here, your whole family lives here."

Her dedication and her 60-hour work weeks earned her the name Princess of Pigtown, said Chris Ryer, the planning council's interim director. "She's great."

From the time the planning council opened in 1997 until Lane departed last week, the organization served 1,195 clients in the community of 8,000. Some were counseled for drug abuse, others were given career advice, training or placed in jobs.

"She did an excellent job for us," said Joseph Brown Jr., chairman of the planning council. "She put us on a good foundation for the next person to come into the job."

Lane said Pigtown, one of Baltimore's most racially mixed neighborhoods, reminds her of her small hometown of Western, N.Y., outside Buffalo.

Lane left Western when she was age 20. Relying on the advice of a friend who lived in Baltimore and liked it, she packed her car and drove south.

She worked two jobs to make ends meet - at Heart's Place Shelter in Charles Village and as an organizer at Maryland Citizen Action, an independent consumer watchdog group - and decided to stay.

"I think about community development as community justice," Lane said. "People don't deserve to live in a neighborhood where there's trash on the streets and people don't deserve to live addicted to drugs."

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