Former National Football League linebacker and Tallahassee native Ernest Sims III, commonly known as Ernie Sims, is making “Big H.I.T.S.” on and off the field.
Sims has played for North Florida Christian High School, the Florida State University Seminoles, the Detroit Lions, the Indiana Colts, and the Dallas Cowboys, but has put up his cleats and is now the founder and CEO of Big H.I.T.S. foundation.
H.I.T.S. stands for “Helping to Instill Tools for Success,’ and the acronym accurately describes the purpose of the foundation.
“My parents and I started this foundation during my second year in the NFL to give back to my community,” Sims said.
His mission with the foundation, according to the website, is to, “empower and strengthen youth, families, and communities through developing the body, mind and spirit for success.”
According to the foundation’s official website, Big H.I.T.S. is involved in four Leon County Public Schools, teaches 52 classes weekly, racks up a total of over 1,000 mentoring hours a year and has over 30 community and business partnerships.
The foundation has held an annual charity weekend every July for the past 10 years that includes a free charity flag football game, a track and field meet and a scholarship banquet where student athlete scholarships are given to youth in the community.
Big H.I.T.S. also hosts a year-long mentoring academy called STARS Mentoring Academy. According to the Big H.I.T.S. website, STARS stands for “Standing Tall And Reaching for Success,” and is to provide early intervention mentorship, character development and health training to youth ages 7-15 and their families in Leon County, and the surrounding areas.
“Today’s kids in society are lacking character development and basic principles of how to live life. We achieve character development in the program through workshops and matching the kids with role models for one-on-one mentoring,” Sims said.
Aside from workshops and mentoring, the children are also taken on exposure field trips, which could include going to the movies, bowling, a Black history museum, or even an amusement park.
“The little things count. When they turn 21 and 30, they can trace these memories back as a turning point in their lives and I am so grateful for that,” Sims said.
STARS Mentoring Academy has a profound effect on the children involved that even the staff and mentors notice.
Senior psychology student Cierra Thomas stated, “I mentor a smart, witty 11-year-old boy and I feel like I’m his big sister. I took my mentee to a FAMU football game, and because I’m involved in ROTC we were able to get on the field and be by the cannon and get really close to the end zone.”
Thomas said that through that experience she realized that something small like taking her mentee to a football game can be life changing since her mentee was beyond appreciative.
Sims agreed that he has seen the affect the mentoring academy has had on the students. While there are many mentoring programs and charity foundations in Leon County, it is clear that what Sims provides to the community is unique.
“This program is amazing. The mentors involved help shape these childrens’ futures and I really admire how intimate the program is. It’s still in its early stages so it hasn’t even reached its full potential,” Thomas said.
To volunteer as a mentor for the program, or to enroll a child, visit bighitsflorida.com.