In January of 2016, Mike was invited by his close friend, Jennifer Kirabo, to help co-teach an acting & film class to a select group of Ugandan students at the school they both planned to volunteer at. The class would last three weeks and during that time Jennifer and Mike would also film the experience as a documentary to share with the world someday. Not knowing what to expect, his initial hope was that he would be able to reach these children through art and help them become more expressive, confident, creative, better at public speaking, and most importantly, help them find their “inner voice” and spark the magic that is inside all of us, through imagination and art.
Within the first few days, his initial expectations were shattered and both he and Jennifer knew that these wonderful kids would be in their lives forever moving forward. After a few days they realized how gifted and intelligent these kids were and encouraged them to write a short film of their very own. As a class of twenty one, within a span of five days, the class collaboratively wrote, cast, acted in, crewed, and helped produce a 20 minute short film. The result was a film titled “Son Rise” and it was completely conceived by the students (with just some guidance and advice from Jennifer & Mike). Initially, this class was supposed to be a one time experience but both of them became very close with the kids and returned in June of 2016 to premiere “Son Rise” at one of Uganda’s largest movie theaters in Kampala. There was a red carpet, media interviews, and for many of the children, it was only the second time they had ever been to a movie theater (the first time was previously with Mike and Jennifer during their class), let alone seeing their faces on the big screen for the first time!!Friends and family of the students were invited and it was a very special night for all those involved.
During that second visit to Uganda in June of 2016, Mike had also learned that some of the kids were losing hope in their pursuit of playing baseball & softball. Many may remember Uganda’s epic run at the 2012 Little League World Series and many of the boys in Mike & Jennifer’s class were on that team and future Little League teams. Sadly, in the very same week that they premiered “Son Rise” in Kampala for the kids, Mike had learned that the boys and girls’ softball teams were to be excluded from the 2016 Little League World Series tournament moving forward. Mike was to be an assistant coach for the older boys.
“I was looking into the teary eyes of 14 boys who absolutely loved playing baseball and suddenly their futures were over. It’s a sport that they and fellow Ugandans absolutely love and just like that, all hopes were shattered. Without Little League, there were no other options to continue to show the world how well they played the game here in the USA. So I promised those kids right then and there, now with tears in my eyes, that somehow, some way, I would find a way for them to get back to the USA to play baseball and continue to show the world how amazing they were at the sport. The truth is, I had no tangible plan. I just knew that I HAD to find a way to give these kids hope after their dreams were ruined”. So upon his immediate return to the USA, that was the first thing he did…to begin to find a way.
Thankfully, Mike was able to find a way for the boys to come to the USA and participate in a good-will, baseball showcase series called “The World Games”, which he helped create in Toms River, New Jersey. Because The World Games were able to be developed, Major League Baseball heard that the kids were here in the USA and as a result, invited them out to Cincinnati to be a guest of the 2017 RBI World Series. In turn, their impressive showing allowed THREE teams to come back to the USA in 2018…two boys teams and now, a girls’ softball team! However, most importantly, Mike was able to expose the kids to a wonderful community in Toms River, NJ, who until this day have remained in the children’s lives. One of the boys is currently living in NJ with his host family from The World Games and is attending high school now in the USA. Several other boys’ lives are being drastically improved in Uganda by the support of different host families and hopefully one day they will now be able to attend college in Uganda, or if we’re lucky, here in the USA. He is trying to do this with as many children as he possibly can from the former school he and Jennifer volunteered at.
“The nine days we all shared that summer of 2017, were nothing short of pure magic! Just sitting here writing this makes me very emotional and warms my heart. The relationships that were formed, the love that was shared, and the bond that ensued, is something I never expected. Something we hoped could be an amazing life experience for the boys turned into life-long friendships and host families willing to take an active role in the children’s lives, whether it be providing them opportunities here in the USA or improving their quality of life over in Uganda.”
“People always love to ask the question, ‘What is your greatest strength?’ Perhaps my greatest attribute in life has been to be a “dreamer”. Now many might see that as a fault. However, what is life without dreams? For us and what we hope to inspire in our students. But I’d like to think that I am also a “doer”. After volunteering with Jennifer in Uganda and becoming a part of these kids’ lives, when she asked me to get involved in building CREATE…I didn’t even have to think twice about it! The single greatest decision I have ever made in my life was to say “YES” to volunteering in Uganda with Jennifer’s initial film class. These kids have changed MY life forever and THEY have taught me more about life than I could ever teach them. Since January of 2016 I have done whatever I possibly can to help open doors and opportunities for them here in the USA and now…I am proud to help Jennifer and her foundation build a school in Uganda. We want to open doors and give opportunities to the many children in need of an education, who desire education, who have unlimited potential, yet who sadly have no means of achieving that. All they need is someone who can help light that candle and spark the magic that they all have inside of them.”