It is safe to say, sadly, that Mero Ruff’s story is not entirely unique. In the era of COVID-19, reports abound of food insecurity, job loss, and housing uncertainty. What sets Mero’s tale apart is the strong, trusting bond he established with his Jewish Family Service care manager, Debbie Zimmerman (RN), who helped him in his time of need.
When asked about Zimmerman during a recent phone call, Mero was unambiguous. “Debbie was really wonderful. I love her. I can’t say it any other way,” he declared. “She was like a lifesaver. She pointed me in the right direction, and she helped me whenever she could.”
With similar zeal, Zimmerman expressed how impressed she was with Mero—and his exceedingly positive attitude. “Mero and I quickly connected because he was so enthusiastic about improving his situation,” she recalled. “That’s when I can have the greatest impact—when a person is willing to consider new solutions and genuinely wants to discover new horizons.”
New horizons were just what Mero needed when—in the early days of coronavirus lockdowns—his world was severely disrupted. “I lost my job in March of 2020,” he recalled. Until then, Mero had been a temporary employee at an auto brake manufacturer. “I had been there for quite a minute though, when COVID hit. I understand laying off all the temporary employees first,” he said, “but later on, they didn't bring back the temporary workers. You have to work 15 weeks to get unemployment, and I was shy by two weeks.”
Without any income, Mero’s landlord soon threatened him with eviction. That’s when Mero called 211—the number for United Way. In turn, United Way recommended him to Jewish Family Service, and to Zimmerman.
“She was really nice; not judgmental or anything,” Mero said. “I would really like to emphasize that part about not being judged when I was down. It was wonderful.” Mero explained how Zimmerman partnered with another agency to help him pay his back rent and prevent the eviction. “Debbie didn't actually pay it, but she got in contact with the Community Action Agency,” he said. “She was like the middle person. She expedited the situation faster than I could do on my own.”
"Debbie was like an angel sent in disguise and I really, really appreciate her help. She has a special place in my heart. I would love for you to put that in the article. It just shows you that people are willing to go above and beyond to help you. And she really did.”
Zimmerman noted that paying Mero’s back rent was not a long-term solution, but more of an emergency measure. “One of the first questions I ask clients is, ‘Can you afford the rent you’re paying?’ Since Mero was unemployed, it didn’t take him long to answer that question.” On this point, Mero was succinct. “I was living in an apartment where the rent was $750 a month. It was really overpriced.”
Together, they focused on the obvious next step: developing a plan to expedite Mero’s transition to a new apartment. “I try to always meet our clients exactly where they are—and then help them move forward with their plan,” Zimmerman said. “Not our plan, but their plan.” Mero sounded excited about the financial aspects of the move. “It's a much, much more affordable apartment,” he said. “Through Debbie, I got help from St. Vincent DePaul. They helped me with my deposit. I'll be moving in at the end of this month.”
Mero is quick to give Zimmerman credit for the important changes that have taken place in his life, but she insists he made his own good fortune. “He really wanted to work and so I gave him some resources to help with that,” she said. “But ultimately, he made things happen for himself.” Indeed, Mero’s biggest self-driven success was landing a full-time job with a demolition firm last November. “We guide, and assist, and check in regularly,” Zimmerman noted, “but everyone is unique and each plan is created with the client to fit their individual needs. The plan Mero and I developed has clearly worked well.”
Today, Mero knows he’s turned a corner. “I'm happy with my life now. Especially coming out of a dark place,” he said. “With Debbie’s help, it all kind of worked out in my favor.” Zimmerman says it’s nice to know the work she does can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of people like Mero. “I do my best to give all of my clients my all,” she said, “but I don’t always hear when I’ve made a difference in someone’s life. In Mero’s case, I think—well I actually know—I made a difference in his life because he’s told me that.”
Mero’s praise for his care manager is nothing if not enduring. “Debbie was like an angel sent in disguise and I really, really appreciate her help,” he said. “She has a special place in my heart. I would love for you to put that in the article. It just shows you that people are willing to go above and beyond to help you. And she really did.”