Katrina 10 Years Later: How Brad Pitt's Foundation Gave One Family a Second Chance

by Raphael Chestang 1:45 AM PDT, August 21, 2015
Playing Katrina 10 Years Later: How Brad Pitt's Foundation Gave One Family a Second Chance

Nearly 10 years ago, Brad Pitt rushed into New Orleans to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina through his Make It Right Foundation. Now, ET has an update with one of the families who were given a second chance.

Make It Right homeowner Leslie Archie, an elementary school teacher, had lived in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward for 45 years before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, leaving her house demolished. Like many families in the neighborhood, Leslie's home was handed down to her from her parents and she didn't have a way to rebuild it herself.

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This forced Leslie, 55, and her daughter to move into a FEMA trailer, which they parked in Leslie's brother's driveway for several years until she met with Make It Right's homeowner services in 2010. The foundation helped put Leslie, her daughter Lakiwa and Leslie's three grandchildren, Kaleah, Demori and Dalonte in a new home.

"When I found out Brad Pitt was building homes then I said, 'Oh, I want one of those homes,'" Leslie told ET. "When we went to closing we came straight to this house and we slept in here and we haven't left."

On the Make It Right website, Leslie calls the new home "a blessing" and cites her lowered power bill as a plus. Utility costs are cheaper for Make It Right homeowners, as every house comes with solar, significantly reducing energy costs.

The Lower 9th Ward suffered the most devastation when one of the city's levees collapsed, leading to mass flooding and the loss of 1,800 lives. When Pitt visited the neighborhood two years after the disaster, there was still plenty of progress to be made, so he took it upon himself to help those who were still struggling to recover.

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"These are families like yours and mine, who have been left in limbo," Pitt told ET's Kevin Frazier in 2007. "That's what this is designed to do. It's a practical way to get people in homes."

Enlisting the help of architects like Frank Gehry and Shigeru Ban, Make It Right began building eco-friendly, green homes that were affordable, but also carried personal touches from the homeowners who were allowed input in the design process.

"Brad Pitt invested in the Lower 9th Ward at a time where we were probably at our lowest," Rep. Wesley Bishop told ET.

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Make It Right community outreach manager Tanya Harris was born and raised in the Lower 9th Ward and has been a leader in the post-Katrina rebuilding efforts.

"My family and I lost everything we owned," Harris told ET. "We lost friends and family, unfortunately. We lost a sense of community. It was a very tragic period in our lives."

Today, Make It Right has built "109 homes and counting," according to Harris.

"We are people who are very fortunate, and if we can share a little of that, I think there's no greater gift," Pitt told ET.

To learn more about the Make It Right Foundation, visit their website