All it took was a five-minute car ride for Jenni Tekletsion to foster a friendship with her 88-year-old Uber passenger.
She met Paul Webb in March 2020, when he called an Uber to take him to a nearby Verizon store to get his cellphone fixed.
Tekletsion, 52, picked him up at his home in Columbus, Ohio, where he lives alone.
"From the start, we really connected," she said.
The feeling was mutual: "She was very personable, easy to talk to," said Webb, who was diagnosed with dementia several years ago and has been unable to drive since having a stroke in 2017.
Only a few minutes into their car ride that day, "I could tell how lonely he was," Tekletsion said. "I had a feeling that he needed help. I told him I live nearby his house, so I said, 'From now on, when you need a ride, just call me.'
"I will take care of you," she told him, and gave the stranger her phone number. "He trusted me."
Webb took her up on the offer and called the following day, asking for a ride to a nearby gas station to buy milk.
In a matter of weeks, he called more often, and she also came by to check on him.
"I started coming here every single day after work to take him out to eat," said Tekletsion, who was working remotely as a banker for a financial institution while also working toward her doctoral degree in business administration at Franklin University, which she is still pursuing.
Tekletsion drives an Uber in her spare time, she said, to earn some additional money to send to an orphanage in Ethiopia — her home country, from where she emigrated to the United States two decades ago.
For more than a year, the unlikely duo shared a meal together daily — either lunch or dinner, depending on Tekletsion's work schedule, and they would alternate who picked up the check. Tekletsion also drove Webb wherever he needed to go — the grocery store, doctors' appointments, haircuts and restaurants — free of charge.
Their daily dates were a pleasure for Webb, who said, "We talk about anything and everything and we usually agree on everything."
A bond between them developed, and this past April, when Webb's health started declining, Tekletsion decided to quit her full-time job to become his caregiver.
Tekletsion felt duty-bound, she said, given that she was unable to look after her own father, who lived in Ethiopia and died in 2003.
"I always missed my dad, and I was not there for his last days to take care of him," she said.
Webb, she explained, "is like my dad." Their relationship feels like "father and daughter."
In Tekletsion's mind, the decision to quit her full-time job was obvious, she said. Still, it stunned Webb's family.
When Tekletsion first walked into Webb's life nearly two years ago, his son and daughter - both of whom live in Columbus — were wary of her intentions.
"The hardest part was to build trust with his children," Tekletsion said. "I explained to them who I am and where I come from, and that I don't need anything from Paul, but I want to take care of him and help him in his daily life."
Tekletsion — who has been married for 30 years and has two children — told Webb's family that she is a spiritual person and felt fated to meet their father and offer him her support.
Although they were ambivalent at first about their father's newfound friend, son Keith Webb, 66, quickly "could see that she was sincere."
Since Paul's wife of 65 years died in 2014, he has lived a relatively solitary life, his son said, explaining that although he and his sister check in regularly, neither of them is able to care for their father full time.
He was diagnosed with dementia in the summer of 2017, and his memory — and zest for life — has been slipping away from him ever since.
Before he met Tekletsion, "we were praying for someone to come into his life," Keith said. Her commitment to his father "is nothing short of a miracle."
Tekletsion's steadfast devotion became most apparent last spring, when Paul's health worsened considerably, and he began wandering around his neighborhood alone.
"It came down to an issue of immediate need," Keith said. "My sister and I agreed we can't allow him to do that. Something's going to happen or he's going to get hurt."
The only obvious option, he reckoned, was to put his father in an assisted-living facility, even though "we didn't want to do that."
It was also against their father's wishes.
"There was no way I was going to go to a nursing home," Paul said.
That's when Tekletsion chimed in with a jaw-dropping offer: "Please don't take him to assisted living. I will take care of him," she said.
The Webb children were astonished, and sincerely touched.
"There are people in this world that really care," Keith said. Tekletsion's kindness is "an example of hope generated in a nation that can feel hopeless."
Tekletsion took a 50% pay cut to become Paul's full-time caregiver, she said, but her new job came with "so many other rewards" that transcended what money could offer, including simply seeing him smile. Plus, she added, her husband works three jobs, which affords her some financial flexibility.
"She is the real deal," Keith said of Tekletsion. "She's been there through everything. I'm just so grateful."
His father is grateful, too: "It's marvelous," Paul said. "I don't even want to think about losing her friendship. She is like a daughter to me."
Tekletsion shows up at Paul's house seven days a week around 10 a.m. and stays until 6 p.m. She tidies the house and ensures he takes his medication on time, bathes every day, eats balanced meals and gets lots of fresh air. Above all, though, she keeps him company.
"I'm staying busy," Paul said. "She is always there."
While becoming a caregiver wasn't part of Tekletsion's professional plans, she has never felt more fulfilled.
"How lucky am I to get to spend my days with Paul?" she said. "It was the best decision I ever made."