By JASMINE HOLLIE, The Tuscaloosa News
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — While a student at the University of Alabama, Daniel Nielsen helped build 17 Habitat for Humanity homes and helped raise more than $200,000 for the nonprofit group.
Efforts are currently underway to fund the construction of a Habitat home in Tuscaloosa in memory of Nielsen, who died in November 2021 at the age of 24.
Gabi Gevers, a graduate student at UA, says it will be a fitting memorial to “a truly exceptional young man” who earned two college degrees during his five years at Capstone.
“He was so dedicated to Tuscaloosa and helping people in his community. And so the best way to give back to him is to help him continue to help the Tuscaloosa community,” Gevers said.
The goal is to raise $100,000 to build a Habitat home in Nielsen’s name. To kick off this effort, Gevers and fellow student John Pelham organized the Dan Nielsen Memorial Fundraiser.
The event is open to the public and is scheduled from noon until 4 p.m. on April 24 at the Heat Pizza Bar, 2250 Sixth St., and Government Plaza downtown.
Guests will be invited to dine at the Heat Pizza Bar, a percentage of each meal supporting the Daniel Nielsen Memorial Habitat Home. Other activities will take place at Government Plaza including games, drawing, live music, food trucks, adoptable pets from Metro Animal Shelter and more.
Admission will be free for activities at Government Plaza. Guests who are of legal drinking age will be able to purchase $10 wristbands, which will allow them to purchase alcoholic beverages at the Heat Pizza Bar and use an Entertainment District mug to transport their drinks to Government Plaza for the duration of the event, Gevers said.
“And for our underage friends, this will give you access to free makeup, free glitter tattoos, and entry to the cornhole tournament, which will have a grand prize… ‘a discounted price for our (T-shirt) tie-dye station,’ she said.
All proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the Daniel Nielsen Memorial Habitat Home.
Gevers said she hopes people have fun at the event, which will showcase Nielsen’s dedication and support for Habitat’s mission to build affordable homes for families in need.
Nielsen served with the AU Habitat for Humanity chapter from 2016 to 2019, first as chapter treasurer and then as president.
One of Nielsen’s most notable accomplishments was the campaign to build a new home for Sonya Kemp, whose home was badly damaged in the April 27, 2011 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa.
Nielsen led the “Raise the Roof for Sonya” campaign, which raised enough money to demolish Kemp’s old house and build a brand new house on the same spot in 2018.
“Raise the Roof for Sonya” was primarily produced by UA students and graduate students involved with the Culverhouse College of Commerce Marketing Program and UA Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter.
Olivia Ustas, who described herself as a close friend of Nielsen, said the Illinois native was a good person and a natural leader who excelled in the classroom.
She said the April 24 fundraiser would be a great way to keep Nielsen’s memory alive, which Ustas said she does every day.
“I think that’s probably the best way to honor what he loved the most, which was helping others,” Ustas said. “Whenever (he) and I spent time together… I always heard about his latest build, the people he worked with (and) the people he helped.”
Ustas said he met Nielsen five years ago as part of AU’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics program as part of the master’s of business administration program.
She said the two shared a special bond.
“Daniel was the most dynamic and loving person I think anyone knows. He was just the most caring individual… He always had a smile on his face, always put others first. And that was an incredibly hard worker. He was an incredible student and an incredible student leader,” Ustas said.
Born in Rockford, Illinois, Nielsen accepted a full scholarship to the University of Alabama in 2015, according to his obituary.
Nielsen graduated summa cum laude from AU in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 2020, he obtained his Masters in Business Administration from AU.
During his college career at Capstone, Nielsen was the 2019 recipient of the AU National Alumni Association’s Outstanding Senior Award.
For more information about the Daniel Nielsen Memorial Habitat Home and how to donate, go to https://habitattuscaloosa.kindful.com/?campaign=1160638.
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