Local Mortgage Professional Travels to Africa to Help Refurbish School


While many often travel to South Africa to experience the rich culture and the world famous safaris, Academy Mortgage District Manager Shawn Williams discovered an entirely different way to enjoy that nation.

The Glen Burnie resident participated in a Service Expedition there with a group of more than 160 loan officers, managers, executives and other company representatives.

Given as a unique reward for extraordinary performance, Academy Mortgage’s Service Expedition is an important and differentiating component of the company’s heavily service-oriented culture, which focuses on numerous service initiatives both at home and abroad, according to organizers of the expedition.

“Honestly, it was indescribable. I am so grateful that I was able to stay in the moment and soak in everything about the experience,” Williams said. “I was mesmerized by South Africa and the people.”

Williams joined others from Academy Mortgage in helping to provide two days of service to benefit The Makwetse School, located near the famous Kruger National Park where more than 700 students attend.

Despite having classrooms overflowing with more than 100 students, the school risks losing government funding if it turns away any child, so the group focused on improving the school’s infrastructure. He and other volunteers assisted with the construction of a desperately needed school kitchen, which officials called life-saving addition in an environment where school meals are often some students’ only meals of the day.

“This experience gave me a lot of hope. Seeing the local people celebrate each small victory and treasure life’s simple pleasures that we in the United States often take for granted meant so much to me,” Williams said. “I wanted a little bit of what they have— a slower pace, happiness, resourcefulness, and a deep sense of appreciation. Knowing its history, it was amazing to see how far the nation has come.”

To help keep the kitchen shelves stocked, the volunteers also built keyhole gardens, which the students are charged with taking care of.

The volunteers also painted classrooms and windows, refurbished over 400 student desks, and painted bookshelves for the school’s new library in bright colors.

Each project, including the construction of the school library and the planned new playground, were funded by Academy Mortgage, one of the top independent purchase lenders in the United States.

“I witnessed and experienced some of the greatest acts of joy, kindness, and love in my life,” Williams said. “The people were enlightening, and I was encouraged by their talents and resourcefulness.”

Only Academy’s highest-performing managers, loan officers, and employees earn the opportunity to participate in the Service Expedition, according to a news release. Since the program’s inception in 2011, Academy team members company-wide have to come to recognize that there is truly no greater reward than the chance to serve others, the release stated.

“I was blessed to be able to share this once-in-a-lifetime travel experience with my uncle who kept saying, ‘I don’t think that I’ll ever have to travel again,’” Williams said. “Participating [in] a Service Expedition such as this gives you a stronger sense of purpose in your life and an opportunity to discover more about what you are made of.”