Mr. Habitat contestants raise record amount for organization

Dana Jelinek and 2019 Mr. Habitat winner, Travis Powell, present Josh Aitken with the honor of Mr. Habitat 2020. The crowning was held at Peace Lutheran Church on September 15.

In a year with uncertainty, non-profit fundraising has been a challenge. For Grand Island Area Mr. Habitat contestants, those challenges turned out to be surmountable.

2020 marked the 10th year for the Mr. Habitat competition, which pits five men against each other to raise money for Grand Island Area Habitat for Humanity. From July through mid-September each year, the competition typically sees dozens of in-person events and dine to donate nights leading up to a tongue in cheek pageant where Mr. Habitat is crowned. But this year, the competitors had to be more creative and understanding of the limitations this unprecedented year brought.
For the last two and a half months, Josh Aitken, Grady Erickson, Travis Mittan, Ryan O'Neill, and Gene Ulmer competed to see who could raise the most money. Little did they know when they began, that they would break the event's record for earnings, bringing in over $58,000 from their efforts.
Speaking of the journey to the finale, Josh Aitken said, "Covid-19 had restrictions put in place and we didn't know how fundraising would go. It's been an eye-opening and humbling experience".
Aitken, along with the other candidates each expressed their gratitude, surprise, and humility at the results.
Ulmer shared "It was a fantastic experience and an amazing journey. Our families, friends, and sponsors came through for us and I am proud of all of these men who competed in a year of uncertainty".  
In spite of all the challenges and unknowns, Aitken raised nearly $15,000 of the group's $58,000 total, putting him in the lead on the last day of the competition and earned him the crown. Gene Ulmer, who had been in the lead, was edged out by less than $600.
Even though Mr. Habitat is a competition, Habitat for Humanity is the ultimate winner as are the people who will have the opportunity for safe, affordable housing. Soon the organization will complete and sell its 104th house.
Habitat board member LeAnne Doose said of the Mr. Habitat contestants, "They supported Grand Island Area Habitat for Humanity, and they supported one another. This happened long before they took the stage at the Mr. Habitat pageant - it's been happening for months."
She added, "I saw friendships, laughter, and even emotions as they pondered the difference made through their efforts".
Aitken, who has volunteered on the construction sites throughout the competition said, "The Grand Island Area Habitat for Humanity holds a very special place in my heart, and I do not take the opportunity to serve within the 2020 Mr. Habitat campaign lightly. This is home, and having the chance to help future homeowners thrive within this city is beyond exciting."

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