Taylor Swift has a hero, and he's an Alpharetta, GA, college student who started his own charity to help victims of tornadoes that swept through Alabama and Georgia on April 27.
James O'Dwyer was honored in the 2011 HALO Awards, being presented on nick@nite Sunday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m.
O'Dwyer also has been chosen as the Huffington Post Greatest Person of the Day for Friday, Nov. 4.
O'Dwyer was a college freshman at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL on April 27 when a devastating tornado formed in Alabama. The university was closed, and students sent home when they could make it. But by the time he was back in Alpharetta, O'Dwyer knew he wanted to do something to get aid back to the victims left behind.
So within a few days he and his mother had people dropping off supplies, and the family van went back to Tuscaloosa with supplies. Then a tractor-trailer was provided, and the donations continued to grow.
The efforts grew by social media, with Facebook used extensively to connect people who had never met before. He and Linda Nichols got in touch with each other, and they soon were cofounding Magnolia Disaster Relief. Now they accept donations via the donate button on the charity's Facebook page, or arrange non-monetary donations through Facebook or email.
"I've gotten a lot of credit for this, but really the people that deserve it are all the volunteers who came out...aren't even being mentioned at all," O'Dwyer said.
The teen said he got a call from Nickelodeon about a month ago about the HALO Awards, asking him about his story.
"The next thing I knew, they told me I had been picked," he said.
O'Dwyer was given a time to meet up with some Nickelodeon people in Tuscaloosa at a local restaurant.
"All of a sudden Nick Cannon showed up, saying here's $10,000 for your relief organization," he said.
Next a limo picked him up and off he went to Atlanta, where he got to meet Taylor Swift backstage of her concert.
"I got to hang out with her, got my own dressing room. It was really cool," he said.
This past weekend he and his parents were in Hollywood for the taping of the 2011 HALO Awards.
"It kind of hit me about a quarter of the way through the show just how really cool it was and just how big a deal it was. It was a lot of fun, too," O'Dwyer said.
Magnolia Disaster Relief continues collecting and distributing supplies, but most recently it's been more specialized, such as finding a Spiderman shirt to replace what a four-year-old lost, "as opposed to just bringing big truckloads of whatever to towns that have been hit.
"But now we've got a $10,000 donation from Nickelodeon, so we're thinking we are probably going to start raising money to build a house for a family," he said.
That's just in the idea stage now, O'Dwyer said.
Things are far from normal now in Tuscaloosa, though he said the bubble that is the university keeps students somewhat isolated.
"It was very strange to drive down McFarland Boulevard where they used to just be all lit up and bright lights, and now it's just dark as far as you can see on both sides," he said.
He's said there's "constant reminders it's still not that same, and probably never will be in our lifetime."
Two weeks ago O'Dwyer went out with a group to help clean a yard that looked just like it did the day after the tornado hit.
This semester O'Dwyer kept his schedule simpler as he was continuing his charity work and pledging to a fraternity.
"Hopefully next semester I can be busy building a house," he said.