Over the past 20 years, Sal Rummo has gone from a business owner to a man without a home to a paragon to his peers.
“He's come a long way,” said Rummo's boss, Amanda Serrino. “He's like a different person now.”
Rummo is a mental-health worker in the facility in which he was a patient less than eight years ago. He's grateful for the opportunity to show those who are getting help that they can also succeed.
“A lot of good people helped me,” said Rummo, 53. “(The patients) look at me and think maybe there's a chance for them.”
In 1986, at just 24 years old, Rummo went into a business venture with family, purchasing an Ellsworth hotel and bar. He managed the former Raven Inn for a decade. Most nights, he could be found bartending, “having too much fun, drinking and womanizing,” he said.
But the fun didn't last.
The business wasn't profitable, and Rummo, who injured his leg in 1994, had pain and difficulty walking. He also was dealing with a lost love.
“Not being with my girl and having the business come to an end made me crazy,” he said.
In 1996, Rummo checked himself into the psychiatric unit at Washington Hospital. When he was discharged two weeks later, diagnosed with a chemical imbalance, Rummo sold the business.
He moved to Florida for a job installing fiber-optic cable. When he came back to Pennsylvania in 1999 to have his leg examined by a doctor, Rummo said he was fired from the job. Soon after, his mother had a stroke.
Rummo became her caregiver until her death in 2005, He also cared for a friend who was living with multiple sclerosis.
During that time, Rummo said he experienced periods of sadness, but didn't seek treatment. Instead, he used cocaine, marijuana and alcohol to deal with his loneliness.
After a second leg surgery in 2006, he moved to South Carolina to live with one of his three sisters. They argued and he left with nowhere to go. He drove to Savannah, Ga., where his 14-year-old car died.
“That put me on foot,” he said.
Without any possessions except a small bag of clothes, Rummo slept most nights in a library vestibule and depended on food from soup kitchens and churches to survive.
“I had nothing,” he said. “I was a mess.”
In and out of the hospital for depression and schizoaffective disorder, Rummo said, “They got sick of me and put me on a bus.”
He ended up back in his hometown.
The next several years, he said, were pretty bad. The regimen of medication he was prescribed made Rummo feel “out of it,” and caused memory problems.
In 2009, when he was admitted into the Bentleyville Long Term Structured Residence (LTSR) run by the Mental Health Association of Washington County, Rummo started to feel relief from his mental-health issues. The LTSR provides medical and psychiatric services, counseling, vocational assistance and opportunities for recreation and socialization.
“When you feel hopeless, that's when you need the help,” Rummo said.
Eventually, Rummo was moved to the next-door, step-down Enhanced Personal Care Home, and then, in 2014, to his own apartment in Bentleyville.
While it's not typical for a former resident to return to the center as a volunteer and then employee, Rummo did just that.
“We all saw the potential in Sal,” said Serrino, a program director. “He's a model for the people he works with. They can tell he really cares about them. They can see it.”
Rummo's objective is to help residents achieve goals to integrate back into their communities.
“I love them. They're all kind of broken, just like me,” he said.
When he's not working, Rummo enjoys watching local sports teams. He also attends church, which he said helps him cope.
“Going back to church helped a lot,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go to church all along, I just wanted to make sure my lifestyle was clean enough.”
Rummo's next objective is to earn certification as a psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner. The certification will open up more job opportunities.
Rummo said he's now on the right medication, and he sees a doctor and therapist regularly. Keeping a sense of humor and engaging in physical exercise also helps him maintain his mental health.
“I'm fine now,” Rummo said. “Now I care about myself.”