Green Bay Packers free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) puts his arms around teammates strong safety Morgan Burnett (42) and cornerback Josh Hawkins (28) during the playing of the National Anthem before an NFL preseason football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.
GREEN BAY — Now that he has established himself as one of the top young safeties in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers' Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is trying to make an impact off the field.
Personal experience helped Clinton-Dix hone the focus of a charitable organization he started this year. "Ha Ha's HERO Foundation" aims to improve the lives of children from low-income families in the Green Bay area.
"Me coming from a low-income background, I really didn't take my studies serious as a young kid," Clinton-Dix said. "I just want to give back and kind of be a resource for younger generations."
"HERO" is an acronym for "Hope, Education, Resources and Opportunity." The foundation's mission statement said the charity "will provide economically-challenged students with a voice of motivation, empowerment and encouragement." The hope is it would help students achieve academically, develop positive personal skills and make "positive decisions to avoid high-risk behavior."
There's a need in part, organizers say, to read more to children; to interact with children about reading and academics; and celebrate "moments of intellectual discovery."
The 24-year-old Clinton-Dix said he didn't read much — unless he had to — while growing up in Florida, "and that was a problem." He didn't make the best decisions. He had to repeat sixth grade, he said, not because he wasn't smart enough, but because he didn't focus on being a student.
He thought a lot about sports. "That was the glory," he said recently. "You never really thought of wanting to be a police officer right away or any just normal job."
Clinton-Dix has turned into a Pro Bowl safety entering his fourth year in Green Bay. The team's first-round draft pick in 2014 out of Alabama led the team with a career-high five interceptions last season. He'll be counted on to provide more leadership as one of the veterans in the secondary.
Clinton-Dix wants to show economically-disadvantaged children that role models come from a spectrum of occupations and backgrounds.
"It's your teachers, the police officers ... your janitors," he said. "All these people are heroes because they all help us out in some kind of way, so we all have a connection."
About 1 in 4 children in Green Bay live in poverty, the foundation said, and low-income students tend to have higher dropout rates in high school. Motivation has been linked to better academic performance, the foundation said, as well as greater conceptual understanding, satisfaction with school, self-esteem, social adjustment and school completion rates.
Clinton-Dix officially launched the foundation on Monday , with an inaugural fundraiser scheduled for Oct. 9. One program, scheduled to start in 2018, will provide "economically challenged" elementary and high school students at Title I schools and community centers with books and technology tools.
Another program focuses on providing leadership to disadvantaged high school students.
Clinton-Dix, who left after his junior season at Alabama, said he is on target to complete his bachelor's degree in the spring. An internship at the Brown County Courthouse in Green Bay this offseason helped feed an interest in a career in criminal justice — whenever he is done with football.
"It's all a learning experience for me. I'm just grasping everything, getting as much knowledge as I can and continuing to learn and not being afraid to take challenges," he said, "and actually take action."