With the world in need of more hope right now, Academy Mortgage is taking action to make a difference.
Academy was built on a vision to Inspire Hope, Deliver Dreams and Build Prosperity — a set of values that are not simply listed in a mission statement hanging on an office wall. Academy teams walk the talk in serving and lifting others, whether by helping families achieve homeownership or by donating time, talents and resources to those in need.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Academy stayed true to its vision by looking for ways to serve others amidst the hardships and uncertainty. The result was the Help Inspire Hope Campaign, launched as an opportunity for Academy teams to make a difference in their communities by boosting morale, uplifting spirits and spreading positivity.
“Many asked the question, ‘What can we do to help?’ We encouraged them to inspire hope and share their stories of giving back to their neighbors and communities, even while practicing physical distancing,” Chief Executive Officer James Mac Pherson said. “In doing so, we have stayed connected and built stronger relationships throughout the Academy team, and we have maintained our culture of service.”
On the company’s internal Facebook page, there are more than 100 hope-inspiring stories and anecdotes about team members’ experiences or actions they’ve witnessed. So far, morale-boosting stories have included writing daily jokes on a front window, donating supplies to a homeless shelter, delivering pizzas to frontline workers and making face masks.
After a few weeks of sharing and hearing stories like these, Academy decided to take things in a delicious direction. The company distributed more than 1,500 SHARE packages to its team members and families across the United States to launch the “Sharing Is Caring” Cookie Campaign, which took place from April 24 to May 17, 2020.
Each package included some of the tools and ingredients needed to bake and share a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Employees were challenged to share goodness and help inspire hope in their community by baking and distributing 100,000 cookies over the 4-week period — a number equal to about 5 dozen cookies per person. Hundreds of people participated in this campaign, and some team members went above and beyond the call.
Administrative assistant Denise Piccirello in Phoenix, Ariz., baked 3,006 cookies — 42 different varieties and more than 200 dozen — which she delivered to local fire stations, police stations, dispatchers, Walgreens locations, senior centers, daycare centers and other locations.
Jose Zuniga, a loan officer assistant based in Yakima, Wash., and his wife set a goal to bake a minimum of 1,000 cookies per day for an entire week. Zuniga and his family ultimately delivered 7,540 cookies to women’s centers and homeless shelters in their area.
“We also invited our communities to join this challenge to extend more than 100,000 tokens of kindness across the country,” Mac Pherson said. “The kind gestures are what people will remember, not the cookies.”
When looking at those most impacted by the pandemic, Academy saw the unique challenges faced by the graduating class of 2020 and their families, as COVID-19 meant prom, graduation ceremonies and other traditional end-of-high-school activities were canceled or modified. The company wanted to help those seniors feel special and important even as their celebrations were disrupted.
Academy honored the 75 high school graduates connected to its team members by sharing video spotlights, sending fun graduate packages and offering an internal scholarship program, in which six scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000 were awarded. In return, the grads inspired the Academy team by sharing their hopes for the future.
In addition to these companywide initiatives, Academy’s culture of caring can be seen in the regional efforts different branches and loan officers have undertaken to support their communities during this difficult time.
Leaders of the company’s Oregon and SW Washington team provided the chalk and inspiration for team members to get creative with their families and brighten their sidewalks and driveways with hope and color.
“Smiles are harder to come by these days, but it’s nothing a little fun in the sun and lots of color won’t help,” Regional Sales Leader Ryan Nelson said. “#AcademyChalkYourWalk not only boosted our team’s spirits, but it also expanded to help boost our neighbors and community.”
Academy will keep its Help Inspire Hope Campaign going beyond the pandemic and challenges of 2020.
“We’re continuing to spread stories of people inspiring hope and plan to launch another large initiative in the fall,” Mac Pherson said. “Our Help Inspire Hope Campaign is ongoing and will be a legacy of the COVID-19 era for Academy.”
The drive to make a difference is nothing new for the Academy team. It’s a long-held priority, evident in the opportunities to give back the company builds into the work experience.
For example, employee benefits include time off specifically allotted for volunteer and service work — 30 hours for full-time employees and 15 hours for part-time employees. Eligible employees have logged thousands of hours of volunteer time-off service since the benefit was implemented in 2018. Team members have worked with a variety of organizations, including the Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity and Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the Boys and Girls Club of America, and local organizations.
Service is a key component of Academy’s identity, even at the highest levels of the company. The incentive program for its President’s Club, which consists of the company’s highest-producing loan officers and managers, rewards qualifiers with cultural and service expeditions in which they not only expand their worldview but offer help to communities in need.
For these expeditions, Academy partners with communities and families worldwide who demonstrate a willingness and commitment to invest time and economic resources into projects related to education and homeownership. Participants have the opportunity to travel and work with the local people to bring community-enhancing projects to fruition. Expeditioners have served in Secanquin, Guatemala; Budapest, Hungary; Amaru, Peru; and Cape Town, South Africa.
“These opportunities to serve and visit the most beautiful places on earth have been a huge benefit of working at Academy,” said Jamie Pollard, sales manager in Dalton, Mass. “These are life-changing experiences that Academy provides through these trips, and I make it a priority to put in the work necessary so that I never miss one. I can’t wait to see where we go next.”
In addition to the President’s Club expeditions, all Academy team members may participate in employee-sponsored Service Expeditions through The Academy Corps, which was started to provide support for service projects as well as create new opportunities and Service Expedition experiences. The Academy Corps has completed four expeditions to Apuela, Ecuador, where they assisted with building a vocational school.
On these Service Expeditions and in all of Academy’s service initiatives, team members often walk away feeling like they benefitted as much or more from these experiences than the people they served. Friendships are formed and connections are made as the Academy team unites behind noble causes and fulfilling the company’s vision.
“Doing good for others inspires hope in our communities, in our company, and within ourselves,” Mac Pherson said. “Serving others — whether through our loan solutions to help people achieve homeownership or through our service initiatives — is an essential part of who we are.”