TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — While he was a student at the University of Alabama, Daniel Nielsen participated in the building of 17 Habitat for Humanity homes and helped raise more than $200,000 for the nonprofit group.
Now efforts are underway to fund the building a Habitat home in Tuscaloosa in memory of Nielsen, who died in November 2021 at the age of 24.
Gabi Gevers, a UA graduate student, says this will be a fitting memorial for “truly an outstanding young man” who earned two academic degrees in his five years at the Capstone.
“He was so dedicated to Tuscaloosa and to helping those in his community. And so, the best way that we can give back to him is to help him continue to help the Tuscaloosa community,” Gevers said.
The goal is to raise $100,000 for the building of a Habitat home in Nielsen’s name. To kick that effort off, Gevers and fellow student John Pelham have organized the Dan Nielsen Memorial Fundraiser.
The event is open to the public and is scheduled for noon until 4 p.m. April 24 at Heat Pizza Bar, 2250 Sixth St., and at Government Plaza downtown.
Guests will be invited to dine at Heat Pizza Bar, with a percentage of each meal supporting the the Daniel Nielsen Memorial Habitat Home. Other activities will take place at Government Plaza, including games, drawings, live music, food trucks, adoptable pets from Metro Animal Shelter and more.
Admission will be free for the activities at Government Plaza. Guests who are of legal drinking age will be able to purchase $10 wristbands, which will allow them to buy alcoholic beverages at Heat Pizza Bar and use an Entertainment District cup to carry their drinks onto Government Plaza for the duration of the event, Gevers said.
“And for our underage friends, it will get you access to free face painting, free glitter tattoos and entry into the cornhole tournament, which will have a grand prize ... It will also get you a reduced 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 will have fun at the event, which will highlight Nielsen’s dedication and his support for Habitat’s mission of building affordable homes for families in need.
Nielsen served with UA’s Habitat for Humanity chapter from 2016 to 2019, first as the chapter’s treasurer and then as president.
One of Nielsen’s more notable achievements was the campaign to build a new home for Sonya Kemp, whose house had been severely damaged in the April 27, 2011, tornado that struck Tuscaloosa.
Nielsen spearheaded the “Raise the Roof for Sonya” campaign, which raised enough money to tear down Kemp’s old house and build a brand-new home in the same location in 2018.
“Raise the Roof for Sonya” was primarily carried out by UA students and involved graduate students from the marketing program in the Culverhouse College of Commerce and UA’s Habitat for Humanity campus chapter.
Olivia Ustas, who described herself as a close friend of Nielsen’s, said the Illinois native was a good person and a natural leader who excelled in the classroom.
She said the April 24 fundraiser will be a great way to keep Nielsen’s memory alive, which is something Ustas said she’s doing every day.
“I think that’s probably the most beautiful way to honor what he loved most, which was helping others,” Ustas said. “Any time that (he) and I would spend time together ... I’d always hear about his latest build, the people he worked with (and) the people he was helping.”
Ustas said she met Nielsen five years ago through UA’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics path in the master’s degree in business administration program.
She said the two shared a special bond.
“Daniel was the most vibrant and loving person that I think anyone knew. He was just the most caring individual ... He always had a smile on his face, always put others before himself. And he was an incredibly hard worker. He was an incredible student and incredible student leader,” Ustas said.
Born in Rockford, Illinois, Nielsen accepted a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama in 2015, according to information from his obituary.
Nielsen graduated summa cum laude from UA in 2019 with a bachelor of science in degree in electrical and computer engineering. In 2020, he earned his master’s degree in business administration from UA.
During his academic career at the Capstone, Nielsen was the 2019 recipient of the Outstanding Senior Award from UA’s National Alumni Association.
For more information about the Daniel Nielsen Memorial Habitat Home and how to donate, go to https://habitattuscaloosa.kindful.com/?campaign=1160638.