For more than a decade, the APRO Charitable Foundation has annually provided scholarships to rent-to-own professionals and their families. APRO members have contributed generously to the APRO Scholarship Fund – awarding 418 scholarships totaling $940,750 to date – empowering students connected with RTO to pursue college degrees and successful futures.

Rylee Smith and her family are relatively new to the world of rent-to-own, so she’s especially grateful to have received one of the 34 APRO Scholarships awarded this year. When COVID-19 initially struck the U.S., Rylee’s small hometown of Rock Springs, Wyoming, was hard hit.

At the time, Rylee was across the country in New England, serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – an endeavor she had put all of her time and money into. Naturally, she worried about her family back home as they struggled to make ends meet. And luckily, her father was hired within a couple of months by Owner Spencer Smith at Rock Springs’ local Aaron’s store, where he now serves as General Manager. Rylee completed her mission and returned home last fall.

“My dad’s new job with Aaron’s has given our family back some of what we lost during the first months of the pandemic,” says Rylee. “And Dad has been able to help many other people get furniture and other items they need.”

Ben has also been modeling an excellent work ethic for Rylee, working long hours and inspiring her to keep going with her education. Rylee previously studied at the University of Wyoming, and is now a sophomore Psychology major at Brigham Young University – Idaho, thanks to her resilience, resolve, and – in part – to her APRO Scholarship.

“I’m working on my own to pay for my college education,” she says. “I’ve gotten some loans, and I’ve applied for many scholarships to try to ease the burden of those loans. I’m thankful for APRO and its members offering this money to those of us in need.”

A serious student who strives for perfection, Rylee hopes to use her degree to pay forward the help she’s received – someday working with trauma patients, abuse survivors, and military members suffering with PTSD. Her APRO scholarship is not only enabling Rylee to take ownership of her future, but also has helped turn her into a true RTO devotee.

“Coronavirus brought a lot of families, just like ours, to their knees,” says Rylee. “Rent-to-own helped our family get back on their feet again.”

Rylee’s is one of the dozens of positive stories that generous donations from the RTO community make happen each year. Click here to learn more and contribute to this invaluable industry effort.

From left: John Cleek Jr., Heather Cleek, and Kim Nolte.

APRO member Cleek’s Home Furnishings/Rental & Sales recently prepared 600 backpacks for children of customers who come into stores. Home office workers Kim Nolte and Heather Cleek organized and filled each backpack with some school supplies, along with a flyer for Boy Scouts of America, which partnered with Cleek’s on the giveaway.

“We know, for our communities, this isn’t enough to solve the lack of supplies children need for their education,” said Owner John Cleek Jr. “We just want to give back to the people who really impact us and continue to let us serve them – our customers.”

Cleek’s Home Furnishings had done a similar giveaway in previous years, but COVID-19 quashed last year’s backpack project. The company is happy to once again be helping supply community kids with what they need to succeed at school.

“The pandemic really put a wrench into our normal operations, just like it did for a lot of businesses and people,” said Cleek Jr. “This year, we wanted to do even more and expanded our giveaway from 500 to 600. We hope this helps our customers – we want to help them out in any way we can.”

The backpacks are being distributed to Cleek’s Home Furnishings stores for customers to go by and pick them up.

APRO member SKC Enterprises Inc., dba Rent One is having a busy summer – with a new employee event focused on charitable giving, a new internal incentive program focused on client retention, and an awesome trip to Nashville for the Missouri-based company’s top (and over!) achievers.

Rent One’s 2021 Over the Top Achievers trip celebrates its employees in Music City, Nashville, Tennessee, with a surprise Dolly Parton impersonator.

Charity Week

From left: Rent One President Trent Agin, Chief Executive Officer Larry Carrico, and Vice President Mark Williams

Rent One is debuting its first companywide Charity Week, July 19-24. The goal of the event is to give away $50,000 in grants to 15-30 different child-related charitable organizations. Clients are being encouraged to request grants for their favorite community nonprofits, and for every $1 donated, Rent One will match it, as will Larry and Sharon Carrico – tripling the worth of every client contribution.

Additionally, every Rent One store receives a $50 budget to go toward a gift (like a lunch) for first responders, healthcare workers, and/or community helpers (like teachers), and the company will be hosting a book drive toward the end of the week.

Client Quest

Director of Traning Angie Brubaker (left) and other employees step into the spotlight with the Dolly Parton impersonator to snag a picture.

Rent One’s Training Department has teamed up with Fuel It Company to create a video-game-themed internal incentive competition called Rent One Client Quest. The program will last six months as the company’s Client Retention Specialists collect rewards and qualify for prizes.

Just like levels of a video game, every month will present different challenges and reward opportunities, based upon customer service, negotiation skills, problem-solving, building trust, emotional intelligence, and difficult customers. Rewards are earned by meeting Individual and store goals, and each reward has a point value. Winners will be determined by the overall highest point totals per quarter and overall.

Quarterly prizes will be awarded to the top ten highest overall total point-ers – cash bonuses and custom tees, as well as a team-building event for the company’s top region. The employee with the highest total overall points for the entire competition will be named Rent One’s #1 ROCQ Hero and will receive a raise, a cash bonus, and a trip for two to St. Louis (including lunch with Rent One Owner Larry Carrico), and – at the company’s 2022 Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony – the ROCQ Hero Coat.

Over the Top Trip Returns

Rent One employees swing it out at Top Golf as part of the 2021 Over the Top Achievers trip in Nashville, Tennessee.

Every year, Rent One and RNR Tire Express – Midwest take a team of their highest-performing employees on an all-expense-paid vacation, usually to Mexico. Last year’s trip was cancelled due to COVID-19, but this year’s Over the Top Achievers – more than 60 qualified coworkers plus one guest for each – recently lived it up in Nashville, Tennessee.

The four-day Music City trip included a top-notch steak dinner, a choice of Top Golf, a winery tour, or a plantation tour, and Saturday night at the Wildhorse Saloon with an amply talented Dolly Parton impersonator!

The company’s Over the Top Achievers program continues to grow each year, and the next group will return to Mexico in 2022.

“Tiger” John Cleek proudly shows off his industry awards and honors earned over an almost 60-year career.

“Tiger” John Cleek – partner and president of Missouri-based Cleek’s Home Furnishings/Rentals & Sales, former APRO President, and RTO icon – recently revealed he has been diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative, incurable, and lethal neuromuscular disease.

“I was diagnosed just over a year ago,” Tiger shared. “I suffered a couple of stumbling falls around the beginning of 2020, and began losing strength in my left arm. We did a whole lot of testing, and while there’s no one definitive test for ALS, all indications pointed toward it. We went to the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, and they confirmed I have ALS.”

Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, nicknamed for the baseball legend who famously suffered from it – slowly robs the body of its ability to walk, talk, swallow, and breathe. Every 90 minutes, an American is diagnosed with ALS while another person loses their life to it. ALS can attack anyone, and there is currently no known cause of the disease. The life expectancy for someone with ALS averages 3-5 years from diagnosis.

From left: John Cleek Jr., his wife Heather Cleek, their daughter Mary Cleek, and Tiger at the RTO World 2019 Fourth Street Live event.

“While this isn’t a diagnosis anyone would ever want, I remain optimistic,” said Tiger. “One thing that has helped me is my men’s Bible study group; we meet every Wednesday, and it has really changed my life. I know my life is in God’s hands, and because of that, I’m not afraid.

“But I’m also not stupid,” he continues, with characteristic wit. “I’m involved in the HEALEY ALS Platform Clinical Trial, which is the biggest thing happening in ALS research today. I get a shot every day in addition to the care plan I’m under with my doctor, Dr. Richard Barohn, who is one of the foremost neuromuscular specialists in the field. It’s a multi-pronged approach, including speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and work with a dietician.”

Tiger with his wife Ann Cleek.

Tiger’s father, Clifton Elmo “Missouri Mo” Cleek and his wife, Wilma, launched Cleek’s Appliance and Food Service in Columbia, Missouri, 65 years ago, in 1956. Tiger began working at the store at the age of 12, and took over the company after Mo’s unexpected death in 1973. Tiger grew the business to terrific success, transitioning from retail to rent-to-own in 1987. John Cleek Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, joining Cleek’s Rent-To-Own full-time as soon as he graduated from the University of Missouri – Columbia in 1993. Working side-by-side with his dad ever since, John Jr. oversees operations for all locations across mid-Missouri.

Well-known within his community, Tiger has agreed to serve as a local spokesperson for ALS awareness and research. And while his speech is already slightly slurred and he spends time in a wheelchair, Tiger’s telltale sense of humor and his unfaltering devotion to Mizzou remain fully intact.

Tiger adds the inaugural APRO RTO Tiger Award to his other honors.

“Dad has kept a really good attitude about this whole thing,” affirms John Jr. “He’s been extremely upbeat. He knows what he’s got, and he’s dealing with it. We’re just going to keep praying these clinical trials prove to be a success and that the other drugs he’s received help, and go from there. It’s difficult to watch someone I’ve worked with every day, who’s been my boss, my best friend, and my hero go through this. Luckily, we’re a very close-knit and loving family. We do many things together, and we’re doing this together and, in classic Cleek style, we’re tackling it head-on.”

Last year, APRO introduced the RTO Tiger Award, designed to recognize an individual for his or her industry work at the state level. The inaugural award went to its namesake, of course.

“Tiger Cleek represents the best of the best rent-to-own has to offer in terms of passion for his family, his business, and this industry,” APRO Executive Director Jill McClure noted. “He was named as the APRO Rental Dealer of the Year in 1996, in 2016 was honored with our Ernie Talley Lifetime Achievement Award, served as a board member for over a dozen years, and led the organization as APRO President from 2008 to 2010.

Tiger thanks his colleagues for his APRO Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

“But he deserved to also be honored specifically for the very special contribution he made to the rent-to-own industry with the commitment he made to the state associations and the legislative efforts that are important within them,” she continued. “Tiger has been a true champion in this regard, and the APRO RTO Tiger Award honors someone who has championed rent-to-own legislative efforts at the grassroots level and strengthened our state-level industry outreach.”

“Some of the best friends I have in the world, I met through APRO,” effuses Tiger. “I want them to know what’s happening with me, and I want to try to raise awareness and money to beat this thing. The cure is going to come through research, which is extremely expensive.”

From left: John Cleek Jr., APRO Executive Director Jill McClure, and Tiger at the 2017 Heartland of America Regional Tradeshow.

To that end, Tiger and his family are launching their efforts to fundraise for ALS research through The ALS Association’s Walk to Defeat ALS, scheduled for Saturday, August 14, 2021, in Columbia. The Cleeks intend to continue raising funds toward ALS research beyond this event, but see it as a great way for their friends, colleagues, and other supporters to stand with this RTO icon and exceptional man in the fight of his life.

“One thing about rent-to-own is while we might compete against each other, we’re a family,” John Jr. concludes. “We come together as a family, and when one of our own needs some help, we’re there for each other. My dad has given his life – so much time and money and effort – to this industry. Now, we’re asking and hoping for the industry to get behind Tiger and this effort – to contribute what they can to try to help not only him, but also all the other people and families suffering due to ALS.”

For more information about joining Team Tiger for the Walk to Defeat ALS or to donate, please visit http://webkwc.alsa.org/goto/TeamTiger.

The 8th annual Dumon McCain Memorial Ride honored Colton Laird (picured) in his family’s fight against cytomegalovirus.

Misty and Brian Grow of Growby’s LLC, dba Growby’s RTO recently helped host the 8th Annual Dumon McCain Memorial Ride in Bedford, Indiana, a motorcycle ride and event fundraiser held annually to benefit a child and family in need.

This year’s event raised $10,191 for Colton Laird and his family of Paoli, Indiana, and had 106 bikes participating – both new records for the ride, which is the state’s longest-running private motorcycle ride.

The Dumon McCain Memorial Ride broke records and filled the road.

Colton Laird, now just over a year old, was diagnosed in utero with cytomegalovirus, which caused severe brain damage. Upon birth, Colton was put on a CPAP machine to help him breathe and a feeding tube for nourishment; he has been diagnosed with seven different brain-development disorders, including lissencephaly, which gives him a 10-15-year life expectancy. Colton has a twin brother, Jesse, and a big brother, 2-year-old Remington; their parents, Braydon and Trinidi, must stay home in order to care for their young boys and give Colton the round-the-clock care he requires.

The Dumon McCain Memorial Ride was founded by and is organized each year by Brian and Misty Grow, Rachel and Morgan Lee, and Amy and Byron Amaya, and honors Amy Amaya’s son, Dumon. Dumon battled brain cancer from a very young age, and inspired many others through the way he lived his life. He died at age 14, and the first ride’s donations went to cover expenses Amy acquired while providing his medical care.

Every year, the three host couples seek out a family going through a similar situation and donate event proceeds to help lighten their financial burdens or help further brain-cancer research.

This year, the event also included a $5-a-plate breakfast donated by Golden Corral, as well as live and silent auctions held at a local Buffalo Wings & Rings.

From Left: The Laird family – Braydon (father), Colton (twin with bottle), Remington (older brother), Trinidi (mother), Jesse (twin with pacifier).
From Left: Misty Grow (organizer), Braydon Laird holding Colton Laird, Trinidi Laird, and Amy Amaya (mother of Dumond and organizer).

APRO Member Gopal Reddy – President and CEO of Action Development Corp., dba Aaron’s – and his wife Tulasi recently contributed $10,000 of their own money to the Central Illinois Foodbank, to help their hungry neighbors this holiday season.

Gopal and Tulasi Reddy give back to the community by donating to the Central Illinois Foodbank with Executive Director Pam Molitoris (left).

The Reddys – who own and operate seven Aaron’s stores in the Central Illinois area – said while there has always been a need for food, the COVID-19 crisis has created an increasing and more urgent need to help people facing hunger. The Reddys wanted to give back to their community during the pandemic by providing food to folks who are struggling.

“We have seen the lines of people waiting for food, and it brings tears to your eyes,” said Tulasi.

“This is the time to give,” Gopal agreed. “It’s a big need this holiday season because of COVID-19. We all should be helping each other.”

The Reddys officially presented their donation to the foodbank on December 8, 2020, at a Springfield, Illinois Aaron’s location run by the couple.

“Gopal and Tulasi Reddys’ personal donation of $10,000 speaks volumes about their commitment to building a stronger community,” said Central Illinois Foodbank Executive Director Pam Molitoris. “Although hunger has always been with us, during the pandemic, the number of those who are food insecure continues to increase dramatically. With the generosity of the Reddys, together we are providing hope for our neighbors.”

RNR’s You’re a Rockstar New Car Giveaway honoree Carrie Hodge with President David Harrison.

Rental Concepts LLC dba RNR Tire Express in Springfield, Missouri, along with manufacturer Nexen Tire, recently held its You’re a Rockstar New Car Giveaway, honoring a local breast-cancer survivor with a brand-new 2020 Buick Encore outfitted with Nexen tires from RNR.

Carrie Renee Hodge was chosen as the grand-prize winner from more than a thousand survivors nominated for the giveaway this year. Hodge received her prize during a small ceremony held at an RNR store in Springfield, Missouri, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“Carrie, for your love and sacrifice, your giving heart and spirit, on behalf of RNR Tire Express and Nexen Tire, we want to present this to you,” said David Harrison, President of Rental Concepts LLC dba RNR Tire Express, Rental Concepts West LLC dba RNR Tire Express and HSAC LLC dba RNR Tire Express.

Nominated by her two children, Hodge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and fought the disease for two-and-a-half years, undergoing many rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, as well as surgery. Today, she is thankfully cancer-free.

“She had to walk through bitterly hard days and horribly dark hours, but through it all, my mom was a shining example of dignity, grace, hope and faith,” reads her nomination.

A “mama bear in the best sense of the word,” Hodge is also a passionate teacher. “She is a solid pillar of love, compassion and life to so many people,” the nomination continues. “She makes every birthday, holiday and event special, exciting and unforgettable with her brilliantly creative ideas, careful planning and go-big-or-go-home attitude – not only for our family, but for each of her students and their families as well.”

Hodge’s many cancer treatments and procedures left the family struggling financially. A large part of her job includes driving between many students’ houses every day to provide homebound teaching services for students who are unable to attend school in person. She had been driving a 19-year-old hand-me-down vehicle with continuous issues. Now, thanks to RNR and Nexen, Hodge has reliable transportation and arrives in rock-star style!

Two other survivors and single moms were also deservingly honored by RNR Tire Express, each winning $1,000 cash, a VIP spa day package, and brand-new tires.

Sandra Arredondo of Sebring, Florida, is a single mother of two who was diagnosed at 30 years old with Stage 4 breast cancer, just after unexpectedly losing her fiancé. Arrendondo underwent several rounds of intensive radiation and chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, several reconstructive surgeries and – because she carries the BRCA mutation – a full hysterectomy. Amidst her treatment, her home was badly damaged by Hurricane Emma and Arrendondo lost her mother to lung cancer.

“Despite all of this, she has sown great resilience, and continues to remain positive and grateful,” reads her nomination. “She is the epitome of brave, and most definitely a survivor.”

Kimberly Anderson of Anderson, Indiana, is a single mom and art teacher who put herself through college while raising two boys – one with special needs – and fighting breast cancer. Today, she is a vocal advocate for breast-cancer awareness.

“Even with all that has happened to her, [Anderson] always has an optimistic outlook on life,” reads her nomination. “Her friends sing her praises, about how amazing she is and how she deserves something nice.”

Misty and Brian Grow of Growby’s LLC, dba Growby’s RTO, an ARPO member, along with other organizers, held the seventh annual Dumon McCain Memorial Ride. The fundraiser benefited three-year-old Easton Ritchison and his family, with $9,000 raised.

Recipient, Easton Ritchison, was diagnosed at birth with cri-du-chat syndrome, a chromosomal condition from a missing piece of the fifth chromosome. Recently, Ritchison survived a surgical error from a previous doctor, which has made his life more difficult. These situations now require Ritchison to have around-the-clock care from his mother, Jessica Carter.

“It was really touch-and-go for a while [with Easton],” Carter said in a recent news publication. “We’ve been shown so much love and support from the community. It’s the most humbling thing ever after what we’ve been through, and I’m eternally grateful,” Carter said after hearing her family would be this year’s beneficiary.

$9,000 was raised for Ritchison and his family through donations, a raffle, a live auction, ticket sales, and a local restaurant’s commitment of five percent of all sales it earned that day. 97 motorcycles rode this year, and the event is the second-highest amount raised for a family.

“We were worried about all of the changes we had to make to the event because of the pandemic. We even had to move our original date around, and we didn’t ask as much from local businesses as we normally do,” said Brian Grow. “Even though it was difficult, I’m very thankful for the community for stepping up and make this year’s ride a success!”

Each year these couples organize the ride: Amy and husband, Byron Amaya; the Grow’s; and Rachel with husband Morgan Lee, Captain of the Bedford Police Department. The Dumon McCain Memorial Ride is one of the longest-running memorial rides in the state. It honors Amy Amaya’s lost son, Dumon McCain.

“It keeps Dumon’s memory alive, plus it’s heartwarming to see friends and family come out to the event each year,” said Misty Grow. “The support of the community and the love from the recipient’s family highlight what this event is truly about, compassion and humility.”

Those interested can learn more about the beneficiary through their Facebook page, For the Love of Easton. The family also has a GoFundMe page dedicated to Ritchison, which can be found here. Locals in Indiana can follow the annual memorial ride through their Facebook page, Dumon McCain Memorial Ride, or reach out to Misty Grow on Facebook to stay updated.

APRO member Easy 2 Own Furnishings, located in Bluffton, South Carolina, presented APRO Charitable Foundation Scholarship recipient, AJ Kestler, his award and check. Easy 2 Own Furnishings Owner, Michael Bennett, presented AJ with his award. Easy 2 Own Furnishings manager, Ed Kestler, gave his son, AJ, his award.

AJ graduated from River High School in May at the top 20% of his class. His future college plans include attending the University of South Carolina as a business major. “We are looking forward to his continued success as he continues his education!” said Bennett.

For more than a decade, the APRO Charitable Foundation Scholarship Fund awarded more than 385 scholarships totaling more than $875,750. This year the foundation awarded 32 recipients with various scholarship sizes with the support of three state associations, the Florida Rental Dealers Association, the Kansas Rental Dealers Association, and the Tennessee Rental Dealers Association. These scholarships are made possible because of APRO member donations and the Society of Tomorrow donors’ continued support.

The Kansas Rental Dealers Association donated $5,000 to help kids across Kansas. The donation was made to Food-4-Kids, which provides food to kids who need it.

Angela Strong-McCool, President of the Kansas Rental Dealers Association, noticed an increase in vehicles waiting in line for food at schools in her hometown. She decided to see if she and other KRDA members could help. Research led her to Food-4-Kids, and after discussions with Director Debi Kreutzman, she decided this was the best way for KRDA to help local communities across Kansas.

Food-4-Kids is a program of the Kansas Foodbank (www.kansasfoodbank.org). Its mission is to help students who are food insecure to get the food they need. They supply food to Kansas community schools, which then distribute it to kids who need it. Currently, Food-4-Kids feeds more than 6,400 children across Kansas and is expecting a 48% increase once the school year begins.

Strong-McCool explains, “Once I identified the need in our local community, I reached out to a few other dealers with my desire to help this organization. We knew that the need was statewide and that this was the best place to help as many kids as we possibly could within our state.”

She presented the idea to the KRDA board, which resoundingly approved, and she coordinated donations totaling $5,000, which was presented to Food-4-Kids at the end of July.

Thank you, Angela Strong-McCool and the Kansas Rental Dealers Association for making a real difference in the lives of children in your communities.