In today’s technology-driven world, artisan trades of yesterday can seem nostalgic and forgotten. At Magic City Woodworks, located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Lawrence Sheffield and his team are aiming to bring woodworking back to life for young men who feel trapped in their idleness. By teaching wood shop skills to young men, the guys at Magic City Woodworks are forging strong relationships and laying foundations for bright futures.
Sheffield, a full-time firefighter for the city of Hoover, founded Magic City Woodworks with a mission to help young men answer the question that often plague many new high school graduates: “What should I do now?” He says he’s encountered a great deal of young people who choose not to pursue a university degree or attend trade school and quickly become discouraged, settling into dead-end jobs. In an effort to work toward a better solution, each year, Magic City Woodworks accepts five apprentices with whom to train and build fellowship.
“We find value in hands-on work experience and in being creative, using work to minister to the guys, and building the trust of young men who really need it. Building together is a great way to get to know them,” says Sheffield.
Their strategy is a three-pronged approach to “train, equip, and invest” in the lives of young men. The nonprofit’s mantra says it all. “We train the apprentices of Magic City Woodworks with the skills needed to obtain a meaningful career. We equip each apprentice with basic knowledge of money management, resume building and job interview skills, and we invest in our apprentices to leave the program with the character to be successful not just at work, but in life.”
Sheffield says the shop came to life from a demand for a local program that teaches life and job skills to those who don’t have the resources to learn a trade on their own. He sought the guidance of friends and church members from the community to create an outreach program.
They decided to supply a space where people could work and create in a supportive, family-oriented environment. From a one-car garage, their workshop has grown into a 12,000 square foot warehouse downtown. As a Christian ministry, they hope that their workshop can become a safe haven for young men who are struggling to create a defined path in life. A message is painted on the side of the building that reads, “How beautiful you are.”
The shop produces high quality, functional furniture pieces that are handmade by the apprentices. This year, they’re working on projects such as walnut, end-grain chopping blocks or an elaborate coat tree, in addition to bringing back their most popular desk design.
They hope to sell the pieces to local businesses that want to show support to these young builders. Sheffield says, “we want to sell our coat tree to a local company. We want to get office managers and restaurant owners to seek out our designs and say, ‘this is a great product.’”
Along with the sweat of hard work, Magic City Woodworks runs largely on donations. Sheffield says the shop is “driven by generosity” and relies on the support of the community. Shop materials are generally supplied by local retailers of reclaimed lumber, like Birmingham’s Evolusia. Birmingham-based Kinora Films have even helped create promotional videos. In fact, Sheffield says there are nine new videos in the works that will document their many projects over the coming year.
Patrons can purchase products from Magic City Woodworks at the Pepper Place market during the spring and at the BJCC’s Christmas Village in November. The team is currently working on building an online store. Sheffield says that monetary donations and building supplies are always welcome. By donating to Magic City Woodworks, you can help their team fund five new apprentices this year.
Magic City Woodworks encourages any young man aged 18-30 to apply for an apprenticeship opportunity. To become involved, to become a supplier, or to apply for an apprenticeship, contact Sheffield at 205-383-5043 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, visit magiccitywoodworks.org.