Volunteers and Stars Break Ground

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Former President Clinton and Brad Pitt met with hundreds of volunteers in the Lower 9th Ward at the site where a foundation headed by Pitt plans to begin building affordable homes for Hurricane Katrina victims.

"We hope to see a huge change here in the next six months," Pitt told a group of residents as he posed for pictures Sunday and signed autographs.

The 44-year-old actor and Clinton walked a street as hundreds of volunteers on either side, wielding shovels and rakes, prepared the land for homes. For hours, they cleared overgrown grass and weeds that were covering street drains and sidewalks.

The Lower 9th Ward was one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in New Orleans when Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, causing the city's levee system to fail with devastating flooding.

"We're working to get the grounds ready so construction can begin," said Anne Bouthilette, a 20-year-old sophomore history major at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

"It is only fitting that we culminate a weekend focused on youth service by turning words into action," Clinton said in a prepared statement.

A brass band played in the background as Clinton and Pitt shook hands and chatted with volunteers.

Bouthilette said this was her first visit to New Orleans and she was enjoying the opportunity to help with the city's recovery.

"There's a pressing need for people to come down here and do work," she said. "There are still so many things that need to be done. Everybody can do something."

Bouthilette was among some 600 college students in New Orleans for the Clinton Global Initiative University, a three-day program that began Friday and was designed to challenge college students and universities to tackle global problems with practical, innovative solutions.

The event wrapped Sunday with the volunteer effort in the Lower 9th Ward, at the site where Pitt and his Make It Right Foundation are building homes using environmentally friendly materials such as cisterns and solar panels for residents who lost their homes in the storm.

Pitt and Clinton broke ground with shovels after their mingling with the volunteers.

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