Teacher left homeless by pandemic gets help after former student recognizes him on street
Every morning, when Steven Nava went to work, he’d see someone sleeping in their car in a parking lot. It would be a few weeks before he learned he knew the man.
"I noticed that he had all of his belongings in his car, and that's when I realized he was homeless," Nava told NBC Los Angeles, an affiliate in Southern California. He also realized the man was his former substitute high school teacher, José Villaruel, also known as Mr. V. Villaruel stopped working once the schools went to virtual sessions last year, and has since experienced housing insecurity.
Once Nava spoke to Villaruel and realized the connection, he 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."
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When rough weather would pass by, Villaruel would tell himself, "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."
But Nava wasn’t done yet with getting his former teacher through this trying time. He then then 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.
made me shed a tear knowing he subbed for my classes easily a dozen times. And crazy my lil bro also got subbed by him in hs few years after 💔
— •joshua_🌲 (@JTrees00) March 7, 2021
He was always so sweet when I had him as a sub :( Thank you so much for looking out for him I hope you reach your goal for him !!!
— 𝔐𝔢𝔩𝔦𝔦 ☀︎ (@MeliiDotLopez) March 6, 2021
Others applauded Nava for his effort. “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?”
"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."