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Posted: 6:44 PM- For a bunch of nonprofit novices, the goal was a lofty one: Build a 1,000-bed orphanage and school on the outskirts of Kabul, in the war-torn nation of Afghanistan.

But their project, which began when some Utah soldiers and their Afghan-American interpreter agreed to work together to fight an epidemic of homelessness among Afghan children, is gaining steam. And organizers of The Afghanistan Orphanage Project say they're confident that the goal - however lofty - is attainable.

The soldiers of the 211th Aviation Battalion were proud of the off-duty work they'd done during their combat tour in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. While helping to deliver tons of humanitarian aid and provide medical care for several small villages, the unit's members had also helped arrange treatment for several severely sick children, including two who were flown to the United States for surgery.

But when interpreter Ahmed Shah Karimi approached soldier Layne Pace about building an orphanage, Pace was wary.

"We didn't have the resources, we didn't have the knowledge," Pace said. "But there wasn't a lack of desire and we figured anything is possible if we could just pull the right people together."

This weekend, the project's officials, sponsors and friends will celebrate the organization's recognition as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, publicly launch their Website" Target="_BLANK"> and begin filming a public service announcement in anticipation of a major fund-raising drive later this year.

A gathering for organizers, sponsors and those interested in contributing to the program will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the headquarters of Globus Relief, 1500 S. 1775 West in Salt Lake City.

In hopes of expanding its profile nationwide, the group is also producing a documentary about the 211th's humanitarian efforts, using more than 70 hours of footage from the camera of 211th soldier and University of Utah film student Jared Jones

Reigning Miss Utah Jill Stevens, who served a medic with the 211th in Afghanistan and is now the spokeswoman for the project, said everyone in the organization realizes they are aiming high. But she doesn't think that anyone who has witnessed the depth of need in Afghanistan - after decades of war, more than 2 million children are thought to be homeless there - would turn away from an opportunity to help.

"Seeing the children over there and seeing the needs that exist, it just makes you want to be a part of this," she said.

And if that means setting lofty goals, she said, so be it.

"I think with any organization that tries to benefit people, you have to start somewhere," Stevens said. "We're starting off now looking at the long run. We've just got to be patient and take baby steps."