Clinton, Pitt meet in New Orleans

Published 11:29 pm Sunday, March 16, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton met with actor Brad Pitt and hundreds of volunteers in the Lower 9th Ward on Sunday 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 with them for pictures Sunday and signed autographs.

Pitt 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.

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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.

Many media representatives were refused direct interviews with Clinton, who has been making public appearances around the country as Hillary Clinton seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.

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

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 one of about 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.

Side-by-side Pitt and Clinton broke ground with shovels after their mingling with the volunteers.

Before his stop in the 9th Ward, Clinton participated in a forum with student journalists to discuss issues important to America’s college students.

Joshua Sharp, a junior majoring in communications at the University of Southern California, was among those who participated. He said he was pleased with the range of topics discussed with Clinton, among them humanitarian efforts in Africa, storm recovery on the Gulf Coast, college grant eligibility for prisoners and ex-convicts and racial issues during this year’s election season.

‘‘College students care about so many issues, and they are following this election closely,’’ Sharp said in a telephone phone interview after the event. ‘‘College students are seeing the issues and really want to have a voice in how decisions are made.’’

Sunday’s forum was taped and segments are scheduled to air on March 26 on mtvU, MTV’s college network which broadcasts to more than 750 college campuses nationwide.

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