2013 Bounce Out the Stigma Summer Camps Come to a Close in NJ With a Bang!

We had two awesome weeks in NJ with our partner the Family Resource Network of NJ in both Wyckoff and Chatham.  We make a great team together and serving children with all types of developmental issues.  The Family Resource Network has partnered with us for 7 years.  This year the Family Resource Network introduced the Get Fit! Program in the camp which included all sorts of conditioning and plyo-metric drills which was a slam dunk success.  In addition to all that, our staff was phenomenal, as well as all of our volunteers (which, by the way, getting 41 from Eisai Pharmaceuticals was fantastic!).  From top to bottom, they worked hard and got the most out of the kids in attendance.  I could not have asked for anything more from them.  The kids at the end of each week grew on all levels: mentally, skill-wise and socially.  So great to see!  And for the 8th year, Whole Foods was a sponsor and as always, we are so grateful to them.  We had more than enough waters and healthy snacks for the kids.

The Brain Balance Centers (of Allendale and Summit) came back to camp and not only did an intimate and wonderful parent workshop for both sessions, in the middle of the week, but this year each added something new.  They showed how diverse they are, teaching the children in camp about the foods they eat.  For instance, sugars in sports drinks as well as the different types of processed meats.  The image I still can not get out of my head is the picture of future hamburger meat of what is soon to be a fast food entree going trough the machine to be processed in its pinkish color before they die it and serve it to you the unknowing customer…yuck!  Makes you think twice about getting that Big Mac now!  But in all seriousness this is why Brain Balance has such a strong following and centers all over the country, they are holistic, fun and educational.

Two great guests we had who are now “camp regulars”: Rafael Addison, a former NBA player with the Suns, Nets, Pistons, and Hornets.  “Raf” had a solid career in the pros and is a special needs teacher now and basketball coach.  He was also a star at Syracuse University and has been coming to camp as a guest for the last 7 years.  And to top it off, the legendary Hall of Fame Coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony High School in Jersey City who has won 26 state championships, 5 national championships, and over 1000 wins came to both sessions of camp too. This is his 2nd year at camp and he showed why he is the best coach in the business. Both Rafael and Coach Hurley do a great job of putting the kids through some great drills and providing a great learning mechanism. We thank not only Coach Hurley and Rafael, but all of our speakers this summer.

One funny and really cool story I would like to share with you was that at camp we give everyone who attends a t-shirt and basketball (among the several things).  On that note, in attendance at our Chatham Camp was a 10 year old girl with epilepsy, who had just started playing basketball.  From the first day she would take her ball home and play with it in the drive way.  She would then insist on bringing her new ball in the house and washing it in the tub, after she played with it.  Then, she would sleep with it that night, before she brought the ball to camp the next morning, everyday!  This little girl got so much better as the week progressed, looks like we are going to have a player!  It is stories like that which make you love your job.  We had to give her another ball for inside because that story was just too special.

This summer made me more excited than ever and really pumped up for the future.  It is going to be great to try and reach as many communities in the school year as well as in the summer too, both locally and nationally.  So keep your eyes peeled for upcoming clinics and camps… The task may seem like a daunting one for many, but not when it falls on the shoulders of the man they call “Mighty Mike”….so stay tuned.

Coach Bob Hurley in Action

Hall of Fame Coach Bob Hurley in Action

Former NBA Player Rafael Addison and Me

Former NBA Player Rafael Addison and Me

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2013 Bounce Out the Stigma Basketball Camps in South Carolina, North Carolina and Illinois: Out of State and Serving a Great Purpose!

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When looking back to this summer years from now, many things will enter my mind. I think mainly how the Bounce Out the Stigma Project is now having an impact and shaping more lives than we had ever hoped. I’m … Continue reading

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2012 Bounce Out the Stigma New Jersey Summer Basketball Camps Fun for All!

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Wow!  Time sure does fly when you are having fun.  And a whole lot of fun is what we had during our two separate weeks of the Bounce Out the Stigma Basketball Camp in NJ. Our first week was held in Chatham at the Chatham ECLC School.  The second week was held at the beautiful St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, NJ.  This was our seventh year of holding camp in NJ.

Their was so many highlights to these weeks and so many stories of inspiration, as well as people to thank.  I think a shout out first to our partners at the Family Resource Network (which includes the Epilepsy Foundation of NJ and Autism Family Services of NJ among their services), as they did a solid job with everything and should be commended.  All staff now has CPR training and that was a great thing moving forward for this program.   Speaking of our staff, I must say how proud I am to be associated with each and every one of them.  They really demonstrate the great qualities one looks for in a human and how they work with each and every one of our children is just terrific.  Our camp nurse, Alice, exemplified to us all why she is so great this summer- I could always count on her.

The Anita Kaufmann Foundation generously helped with scholarships, and Whole Foods was phenomenal once again.  Whole Foods donates each year well and beyond limits with water and snacks for our campers.  Enough cannot be said for my friendship with them and how they help the special needs population, asking nothing in return.  We had several corporations donate volunteers; which is always a great asset to a cause like this.   In addition to that we had some awesome speakers and parent programs this year headlined by great motivational speakers, former and current basketball players, a Hall of Fame Coach, health and nutrition experts and our new partner, Brain Balance.

All in all we had some really great times with our campers.  In Chatham, I was so proud how these youngsters stuck it out through the heat and battled each day.  We had 40 campers and these kids really came into their own and improved.   We had some real characters, some who told funny jokes and stories and some who even grew in their own personal struggles.  A personal story was a girl named Miranda.  The first day I did not know if she particularly liked the program.  As the week progressed she had a couple of health issues with her epilepsy but that did not stop her and I was so proud of her because I knew the program hit home and we would now have a camper for life.  She did great on the court and developed friends with all the campers on top of her skills!  The initial quiet and shy girl now asked me if she could sing to the entire camp and parents during the last day and Closing Ceremonies.  She did and it was awesome!  At the end when the ceremonies were over she came up to me with something she had made based on how much she loved camp.  I have gotten many gifts from children over the years but this was clearly one of the most creative and hand drawn to perfection (even including my bald head)…what a kid!  And what a week!

During the Wyckoff Camp, we had some fun times and fun kids as well.  Of the 40 in attendance, many loved to tell jokes, so I would allow them each day either before or during lunch for stories to express their creativity.  They learned and really played some good basketball as well.  Our closing ceremonies in Wyckoff is always filled with much fun.  Jonathan was and will always be one of my favorite campers throughout the years as he will always have jokes prepared or just create something on the spur of the moment just to rouse up a laugh or reaction from me, the kids and staff.  A special moment hit me which was really special when a campers mother came up to me after our parent program with Brain Balance in the cafeteria.  She said to me, “You should be very proud of yourself…you’re doing God’s work.” I took a minute to take that in and thought about it later in the day.  This is my ultimate goal to serve Him and have these kids live through me.  My ultimate goal is now to take this thing nationwide and ultimately fulfill His Calling for me to reach as many kids as possible.  No limits!

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2012 Bounce Out the Stigma Basketball Camp at Wake Forest University a Slam Dunk Success!

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From the squeak of the first sneaker to the last award given during our award ceremony, when many of our campers accepted their Olympic style medals with arms raised in the air in glory, the Bounce Out the Stigma Summer Basketball Camp at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC was a joy for all those who took part.  From volunteers to administrators, everyone did a great job.  The campers were all awesome and they learned and grew so much! I can not thank the people in North Carolina enough from Pat Gibson and Sue Case of the Epilepsy Foundation, David Laxton of the Autism Society of North Carolina and even the Special Olympics who all served a great part in supplying volunteers and helping out.  Pat and Sue really assisted this project big-time.  They were even at camp every day and played integral roles volunteering, supplied nurses, and even made great home-cooked lunches.  We also had great support from local businesses like Whole Foods (who never lets us down each year) donating snacks and water for the campers.  Chick-Fil-A donated lunch for nearly 40 volunteers on Friday, and after eating my first chicken sandwich from their establishment I must now say, “Eat more chicken!”

I cannot thank Greg Brittenham, our program director, and his family for all their help and support as well.  This will definitely not be our last venture together.   We all got to see why Greg is the “top dawg” in the basketball world as a coach when it comes to fitness and conditioning.  He is awesome and a great friend.

Wake Forest University was a wonderful host as well.  From first inviting me mid-year to do a halftime show at the DUKE game on Senior Night to promote the camp, which was awesome.  Then they gave the program the best gyms on campus to run the camp (Each day, we got to work on the on the actual practice court of the Demon Deacons with the murals of Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Josh Howard on the walls and all the players retired numbers above- how awesome is that!) And lastly, we got WF athletes to work with us at camp, as well as the University’s Sports Media Department to get outreach efforts for media.  That led to some cool things including the nice story most of you have seen via linkage on FOX 8 TV [Click picture to view video]. Sweet!

Most importantly, though, the week was great because it was all about the kids.  We had two action packed segments each day. One was for younger children. The other was for the older children. Ages were from 8-20. They all learned allot and we made sure they had an action packed schedule, filled with lots of fun. The essence of Bounce Out the Stigma Programs is to look past perceived limitations and always strive to do your best and reach your goals both on and off the court.  It was so exciting to see the joy of our campers and their reactions to tasks that seemed insurmountable in the beginning of the week to those that by the end of the week they were doing with ease.  Building “self empowerment” that is what our program is all about. One of my favorite moments from camp was getting a compliment from a young girl named Emily, who was a fast learner at camp and a pretty good dribbler and player.  She came up to me one day, tapped me on the side and said, “When I grow up I want to be just like you.”  I thought for a second, and said to myself, “wow I guess we are truly making an impact.”  Then later that day in our afternoon session, I saw a young boy hug Greg. By the end of the week we all got hugs and plenty of compliments each day from parents. “This is really special,”  I thought to myself, “you can not put a price on this, everything I have dreamed up for this program is continuing to come to fruition.  We are really making a difference.”

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Creating an Impact

Kids Speak Up Washington DC 2012

Many times in life we get to do things that really make us happy.  For me I am lucky because my job is just that.  God has given me a gift and I have been able to use it to benefit the lives of other people, hopefully steer them in the right direction and make a lasting impact that they will take with them for many years.  Young people need a hope mechanism, especially those that have to overcome anytime of adversity in their lives. That is why the last weekend of March each year is special to me. Yes I know its March Hoop Madness, but there is also something special that happens as well.

Each year I am invited as a principal speaker and presenter to the National Kids Speak Up and Public Policy Institute in Washington, DC by the Epilepsy Foundation of America.  It is a role I take very seriously and have spoken over the last 10 years.  My goal is to inform, teach and entertain as well.  It feels great because I know these young people can relate to my story and all in the room are entertained by my tricks with the basketball too. Every state’s affiliate individually picks a child and their parents, and they travel from all across the country.  Then they learn advocacy issues and are entertained in DC for 2 days.  The last day they march on Capitol Hill to meet with their local representatives to both tell their heartwarming stories and discuss issues pertinent in the world of epilepsy.  It is quite interesting.

One story which was cool and made me feel special, was when I went down to the ballroom to set up early.  A young girl and her mom followed me all the way into the room and the little girl was trembling so nervous to meet me and could barely talk that her mom had to talk for her.  She had my book in her hand and wanted me to sign it and her mom said she loved it so much and it had such a great effect on her.  Finally I started to tease with her and got her to talk with me and then we had some friendly conversation about the book and then she smiled and gave me a hive five…WOW! 

The night was great for the kids.  Their was several great presenters and then I closed the night with a speech and show and gave autographs too.  I also had some Q and A from the kids with some pretty mindful questions.  The night ended with the kids and me posing for group pictures which was allot of fun and I posted one of them so you can see.  You cannot see the shoes I am wearing, they are my purple glossy Kobe VI’s: Purple for Epilepsy Awareness.  I have been rocking them since the middle of March and around International Purple Day for Epilepsy (March 26 for all those that don’t know).

My goal is to live my life as in John 10:7-18, the verse of the Good Sheppard.  Jesus is the gate for the sheep and will lay down His life for the sheep, whereas impostors will only be their part of the time or for the wrong reasons.  I want to bring everyone together of all backgrounds so that they can hear my voice and understand that they will be stronger when they are around me and hear my voice and see me for who I am.  Each time I pray to God, I know I am following Jesus’ lead and His ways of the Good Sheppard. 

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Mighty Mike Bounces Back and Arrives!

Co-Authors Robert Skead and "Mighty Mike" Simmel

WOW!  Having a book published was always up on my bucket list of career goals.  So I have to admit, seeing the book in my hands for the first time gave me the chills.   Everything leading up to it hit me like a tornado…now I hope there is enough interest in it.  With my Wizards season starting in a few days as we just ended training camp (yep 10 years of show basketball under my belt) and a few appearances here and there and my 34th birthday also coming around the bend (shh don’t tell anyone bout that) I still feel I have more to accomplish and am truly excited.  Still pushing the rock up that hill.

But you guys are probably interested about the book…

I was really pleased with how my co-author Rob Skead (who by the way is an awesome writer and friend) and I were able to piece this story together and make it both educational and fun for kids.  I was most pleased to put a coping section at the end of the book, a note from yours truly, a listing of the types of seizures and also a special note on what to do if someone has a generalized seizure.  It is different than any other epilepsy book out on the market.  But it is not just for kids with epilepsy, the story is for anyone who is need of motivation or deals with any types of adversity in their life.

I am not going to tell you the story and the discrepancies that were between my life and Mike in the story but I can tell you that if you read the book you will know most of what I felt as a young man and the problems I went through as a teenager seen through this particular persons eyes.  It is very true to form of both what that Mike went through, and this Mike has been dealt.  The themes of family, coping, anti-bullying and courage are what this story is all-about.  I like to describe this book as “my story mixed with a little bit of fun”.

Hopefully when I appear on my first of many talk shows on the circuit to discuss this book and epilepsy awareness, a topic which I truly feel needs to be brought to the forefront (as millions of people suffer from it in the US), I can be given the opportunity to talk more and help provide hope, which is my #1 objective.  If you know any young person in your life that is dealing with any issue get them Mighty Mike Bounces Back as it will make them feel stronger and ever more MIGHTY in their days to come.

So excuse the shameless plug…but can you please go out and buy a copy!!!!

Also watch this video about the book

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2011 Mighty Mike Summer Basketball Camps

The summer of 2011 came to a close for the Mighty Mike Bounce Out the Stigma Basketball Camps this past Friday.  We had three weeks of fun and learning as it was a huge success for all involved.  Our sponsors included Whole Foods and the Epilepsy Foundation of New Jersey.  I was really excited and can honestly say this was the best of our six years of existence!  Our camps are for all types of unique children with backgrounds ranging from epilepsy, autism, ADD, ADHD, PDD, confidence issues, diabetes, learning disabilities, aspergers, etc.

Each day the children were enlighten by a special speaker who included the likes of Rafael Addison (former NBA Veteran and NJ Net), Tojo Henderson (my teammate with the Harlem Wizards), HealthBarn USA, Pat Gesauldo (Drums Against Disabilities), and Scott Chesney (world renowned motivational speaker).  The children were all taught the specifics of life skills and the game of basketball.  Our staff was great as they were made up of some awesome teachers, student-athletes, and volunteers.  Special thanks goes to Glaxo Smith Kline for providing volunteers for Week One.

There were several highlights throughout the weeks in Chatham, Wyckoff and Bloomfield. Some of my favorite moments included working with Will O. again for his sixth straight summer at all three camp sessions.  A young man with epilepsy, he battles seizures everyday, and is a true champion and fighter.  Will is a model to what the program is all about.  We had a special highlight when a new camper to our program, Nina, in week three made her first shot ever.  Then she came back the next day to make more in front of the tearful eyes of her mom.  She knew all along she COULD and no limit could ever hold her back.  As I gave her an award during our closing ceremony I was so excited for her and can’t wait to have her back again.

All these kids are champs and work extremely hard doing some drills that push themselves well beyond their capabilities.  That is what this program is all about.  Never quitting and pushing your body to its maximum potential.  I am so proud of everyone of these children that I have worked with in the six years of my programs existence.

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Mike Simmel and Buddy Valastro Team Up

By Rachell Gillette of the  Hoboken Observer  | March 14, 2011

At Cupcakes with Buddy: Supporting Epilepsy Awareness, organized by the Anita Kaufmann Foundation, guests sampled thirteen bakeries’ worth of mini, purple cupcakes and bid on silent auction prizes on Sunday afternoon. All proceeds went toward educational programs, materials, and seizure first aid trainings.

While the purple-clad crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of Hoboken’s biggest celebrities, Cake Boss’ Buddy Valastro and family, they were able to peruse the offerings of some of the tri-state area’s finest cupcake bakeries, gathered in Hoboken’s  W Hotel.

The selections were sinfully divine, with such flavors as Gigi’s Cupcakes’ signature Red Velvet with cream cheese frosting, or Tonnie’s Minis’ Strawberry Twist flavor, a swirl of strawberry and sponge with strawberry and butter cream icing. But Marla Acosta, head decorator at Tonnie’s Minis, would contend that since it’s for a good cause, guests can feel happy about eating these otherwise guilt-inducing cupcakes.

Amidst the colorful array of iced treats, the Anita Kaufmann Foundation had stationed a booth where guests could make donations, pick up reading material, and meet with “Mighty Mike” Simmel, professional entertainment basketball player of the Harlem Wizards and Founder of the Mighty Mike Basketball Camps and School Programs.

Simmel, who suffers from epilepsy, incorporates his message of creating awareness with his basketball act while visiting 6th graders in schools around New Jersey. He hopes that events like Sunday’s will foster more attention for the cause and lead to advancements in medicine.

“I think this is important because there’s a stigma surrounding epilepsy, and I think that events like this help bring epilepsy more out in the fore front and help erase that stigma,” he said.

With raising awareness at the core of the Anita Kaufmann Foundation’s mission, the organization works to dispel the myths associated with epilepsy and to educate the public about the condition. Featuring the “Cake Boss” family as Sunday’s headliner was a boon for event organizers.

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