The pandemic has left thousands affected in their finances as many people lost their jobs or had their salaries cut due to it.
Steven Nava would often see someone sleeping in their car in a parking lot but when he got to know who it was it would shock him. “I noticed that he had all of his belongings in his car, and that’s when I realized he was homeless,” Nava said.
He realized the man was his former substitute high school teacher, José Villaruel, also known as Mr. V. Villaruel who had to stop working once the schools went to virtual sessions. Nava spoke to Villaruel and helped his former teacher find a hotel and gave him $300. “I had a mission to help the teacher who was going through a difficult time during the pandemic,” he said.
Nava added, “I spoke to Mr. V, and he told me that the only source of income was a monthly Social Security check and that most of that money was sent to his wife who is very ill in Mexico.” Villaruel would motivate himself by saying, “I must not give up, and I have to go on, and on, and do what I have to do for this stage to pass.”
Nava decided to take the cause on social media and took to Twitter to ask his community for help, and also started a GoFundMe. “Mr. V was a great, funny and helpful educator and substitute teacher in the Fontana Unified School District,” Nava wrote.
“He’s struggled with getting back on his feet after the pandemic hit and has been living in his car ever since, despite the brutal weather and living conditions. This fundraiser is to help him out financially and (to get him) back to normal life.” Responses and support flooded Nava’s Twitter feed, with some saying they remembered Villaruel fondly.
TWITTER FRIENDS PLEASE HELP! every morning/ night I’ve always noticed this older man that would stay out in his car constantly at this parking lot near my house even when the weather was bad. He looked familiar and I’m sure alot of y’all have had him as a substitute in Fontana… pic.twitter.com/3hFpIAOMCO
— stvnna ⚡️ (@thesteven7) March 6, 2021
People thanked Nava for doing what he did, “Thank you being such a hero in our community and looking out for those that need our help,” wrote Claudia Gonzalez. “You are a fine example of what it means to unselfishly look out for those that need support and a bit of humanity.”
The GoFundMe has raised over $27,000 so far, surpassing Nava’s original goal of $15,000. On Villaruel’s 77th birthday this week, Nava gathered former students to celebrate with their former teacher. “I want him to feel that he’s cared and loved by all those who he’s helped along the years,” Nava wrote on Twitter. At the party, Villaruel was presented with a $27,000 check.
Villaruel’s response? “Am I dreaming?” He said, “It is an experience of my life that will be kept for the rest of my life. I carry it in my heart,” he said. “I felt that something was going to happen, that things were going to change, and it happened suddenly when I least expected it. “I tell the students when they have a project, keep going despite the difficulties, don’t give up. Do not give up. Don’t quit.”