Rent to Own Industry Names Customer of the Year

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Sherron and Robert Wilder, from Benton Harbor, Michigan, have been named APRO's 2009 Rent to Own Customer of the Year. The 2009 Rent to Own Customer of the Year contest hosted by the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations was created to honor the rent to own customer that best exemplifies the humanity and giving spirit within the rent to own industry.

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I put my hand on it and said, 'I believe the Lord is going to bless us with this hot water heater.' The store clerk laughed and I said, 'you laugh, but I'll be back, you watch.' This is truly a blessing.

Sherron and Robert Wilder, from Benton Harbor, Michigan, have been named APRO's 2009 Rent to Own Customer of the Year. The 2009 Rent to Own Customer of the Year contest hosted by the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations was created to honor the rent to own customer that best exemplifies the humanity and giving spirit within the rent to own industry. The Wilders win a $1000 cash prize and national recognition at APRO's annual convention and industry press. There are 3.2 million rent-to-own customers in America.

Sherron and Robert Wilder, Rent-A-Center customers since 1992, are in the business of helping others. From their Safe Haven programs for children, to their current outreach mission for the homeless, the Wilders' impact on Benton Harbor, Michigan and those who have fallen on hard times continues to resonate.

For the past 17 years, the Wilders have been on a public service mission to help the men, women and children suffering under the weight of homelessness, abuse and despair. And that mission coincides with the couple's experience with Rent-A-Center for a reason.

"When we opened our safe haven for children in the State Theatre, we needed everything, a stove, refrigerator, furniture, where else are we going for things like that. That's when our relationship with Rent-A-Center began."

The Wilders outfitted the State Theatre and then again called on a rent to own agreement to furnish their Prevention Summer Camp and again to provide furniture for their Forgotten Men Outreach Ministries program which includes a homeless shelter and day camp. The shelter -- The Fresh Start Transitional Living Quarters -- recently moved from downtown Benton Harbor to a home the couple purchased.

A shelter and day camp for the homeless feeds up to 35 men and women per month through the ministry and cooks all the meals. The men can stay in the ministry for up to one year, during which the Wilders help educate them about how to find permanent housing.

"We serve soul food here," she said. "These men deserve a home cooked meal. That's part of the reason we rented new furniture and appliances. We serve people who had nothing, who felt like outcasts. We wanted them to feel like they were part of society and they deserve the best."

And Sherron Wilder knows exactly what she will buy with the $1,000 RTO Customer of the Year prize: A new hot water heater for the shelter, something the home has been without since the couple moved in.

"I had one picked out and everything," Sherron said. "I put my hand on it and said, 'I believe the Lord is going to bless us with this hot water heater.' The store clerk laughed and I said, 'you laugh, but I'll be back, you watch.' This is truly a blessing."

Jim Bezjian, assistant manager for the Benton Harbor Rent-A-Center, who has worked with the Wilders for over a year, granted the couple and their mission yet another blessing.

Bezjian pledged to contribute his $500 award to their ministry for nominating them.

"I talked this over with my wife and we agreed," Bezjian said, "with the work they do, I know the Wilders are going to put that money to great use. It's in their DNA to help people and this will help them continue to do that."

"The Wilders are perfect examples of the kind of commitment the rent to own industry wants to honor and foster," said APRO Public Affairs Director Richard May. "The industry salutes them and hopes others may be influenced by their example."

The Association of Progressive Rental Organizations (APRO) has spent more than 25 years improving rent to own business practices to become one of the most vibrant consumer industries in America. For more information on the rent to own process, visit http://www.rtohq.org .

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Richard May
APRO
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