HORNELL — The list of things the Dansville Wireless Zone donates to is staggering. The same with community events employees contribute to or volunteer their time helping out at.  These donations and community service hours go unnoticed in the region.  That ended recently when Todd Bender was received the "Spirit of Wireless Zone" award at the annual Wireless Zone convention in Florida.  Bender owns 10 stores, including the Wireless Zones in Dansville, Corning, Hornell, Rochester, Oswego, Lowville, Evans Mills, Saranac Lake, Potsdam and Ogdensburg.   He said the Verizon Wireless at Wireless Zone in Dansville employees feel they have an obligation to the community.  "We're not doing this for accolades, we're doing this out of a belief, we truly believe in giving back to our community," said Bender. "Everyone comes to purchase phones from us, and we hope they do. We feel we have a responsibility to give back to everybody."  Some of the things Wireless World contributes to include Gus Macker, Toys for Tots, school lunch and snack programs, Rotary, Lions Club, Kiwanis, raffle support, a backpack drive, multiple programs that support soldiers at military bases, Potsdam Summerfest, Oswego Harbor Fest and Evans Mills Mountain Fest.  "The whole list does not matter. When I interview someone, I ask them if they are interested in community events," said Bender. "It's more than being known as the 'Verizon guy' or the 'Verizon gal', it's community service and that's what I want on the team."  As for the Wireless Zone business, Bender said he is trying excel in customer service for his loyal customers and to get those who want to travel to go to a Verizon corporate store.  "The communities for the most part have supported me so we can stay open. One of our biggest challenges is education," said Bender. "For some reason, the industry has conditioned people to go to the 'corporate' store. I am a small businessman. I can do anything for a customer.   "Corporate stores are under a huge mandate to process numbers. Yes, I have to hit numbers, but my focus is customer service and repeat customers," Bender continued. "We want to take care of you, we want you to come back and we want you to tell people about us. We don't have the lines you see at a corporate-driven store. When you come to the store, you know the people who work there from the community — it may be a kid you coached or a neighbor. And if you don't know them? You may get to know them and will know them when you come back to shop with them again."  The description of the national award Bender won in Florida said, "Todd has made a significant positive impact on the markets he serves over the last few years. His stores have been market leaders, while his reputation in the communities his stores are in is one of caring, collaboration, involvement and giving. In short, he exemplifies the definition of a locally owned and operated small business owner. He understands the value of giving back and being connected to people that may be shopping in his stores. We could go on for some time about the many events and charitable organizations he supports."  Bender also said being in the technology industry is a challenge each day he enjoys.    "It's extremely exciting. We can deliver, impactful and large-scale changes to someone's life," said Bender. "A phone is part of everyone's life whether it's private or business. It's really fun. Is it overwhelming at times? Yes. But we wouldn't want to be anywhere else!"     He sees the evolution of phones as historic and important as transportation.     "We could still be putting shoes on horses and have no jobs. The horses were replaced by cars," said Bender. "This is the center of everyone's world. It is neat to hear all the stories, what people use their phone for. Every person uses the equipment different than everyone else. We hear these stories and we can teach them new things they have never considered before. I know my team, everyone is passionate about the business. They like to educate a customer and help them make a decision."     Wireless Zone officials say they were founded in 1988 as "The Car Phone Store. The Wireless Zone system has become the nation's largest wireless retail franchisor and was ranked the No. 1 franchise in its category by Entrepreneur magazine. Each store is independently owned and operated, exclusively offering VerizonWireless products and services, they said, adding "The Wireless Zone system has been honored with Verizon's “Best Customer Service” award for five consecutive years and is franchised and operated by Wireless Zone LLC."
    The Dansville Verizon Wireless World is located at 87 Franklin Street and the Hornell store is at 37 North Main Street.