Alabama-Birmingham - Theta Phi

By Ethan Gissendaner, '14 Jan 4, 2016


Three short years ago I joined ATO at UAB as a founding colony member and I remember trying to make sense of all the newness that was fraternity life. Possibly most challenging was the task of conceptualizing and bringing to life a unique philanthropy event that would connect my chapter to our community. Choosing an organization seemed nearly impossible with so many worthy causes in Birmingham alone, but eventually our search connected us with the visionaries at Magic City Woodworks.

At the time Magic City was in its infancy as a nonprofit organization, a struggle we as a colony understood very well. Their vision of mentoring men in the Birmingham city school system while providing marketable woodworking experience resonated with each of us and the values of ATO. Partnering with Magic City Woodworks was a no brainer and a special opportunity to join another young organization in the pursuit of leadership development.

When I became chapter president, our cause was clear but designing an event was much more difficult and time consuming. Two years after its inception, our Signature Event has raised over $10,000 and is continuing to grow. Our relationship with Magic City Woodworks has been a highlight of my experiences in ATO. I have been fortunate to witness Magic City Woodworks expand as an organization and materialize in just a few years.

One of our first interactions with the organization was moving them into a new warehouse space that is now an impressive workshop and home to all the organization’s leadership development. When I walked in the once dusty and cluttered warehouse I wasn’t sure it could become anything other than what it already was, but the work of my hands was evident as the space transformed and Magic City Woodworks took off.

My time in the chapter is almost up and reflecting on all I’ve experienced with Magic City Woodworks makes it hard to believe it has only been three years because I have been a part of so much growth in the organization. Magic City has graduated its first apprentices who accepted jobs and are positively contributing to our community. I can see the result of my volunteering and donations in the bright future men have when graduating from Magic City’s program; apprentices begin with little to no chance of having a successful career or college education and leave with a marketable trade and leadership skills that are valuable in any workplace.

I see so much of ATO’s emphasis on leadership and personal growth in what Magic City does and that has fueled mine and my chapter’s passion for investing in the men of Birmingham. Through serving with Magic City, I have learned the power that believing in someone can have on their success and future. This is such an important lesson I have applied to how I treat others and my chapter brothers, but one I am realizing can impact my success as I venture into the professional world and hope to develop leaders one day as well.

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