Jose Villarruel – a former substitute teacher in Southern California, was living in his car when he was recognised by his former student Steven Nava.
Noticing a person living in the parking lot near his home, Steven felt that he looked familiar.
“Throughout the day, I was just thinking, ‘Wait, wait, wait, I think that’s my substitute teacher.'”
Jose Villarruel had taught Steven at Fontana High School.
“I noticed that he had all of his belongings in his car, and that’s when I realised he was homeless,” Steven explained.
Due to the closure of schools during the pandemic, Jose Villarruel had collected his retirement funds, as there was decreased demand for substitute teachers. Always sending most of his income to his wife, children and extended family in Mexico, Jose made the decision to live in his car years ago, according to CNN.
Finding out about Villarruel’s situation, Steven first gave his former substitute teacher $300 as that’s all he had in his pocket. However, the former student was determined to help Villarruel even more.
Nava opened a GoFundMe account to raise funds for the teacher who was nicknamed Mr. V. He also uploaded posts on social media asking for help in getting his former teacher back on his feet.
The news about Villaruel went viral, reaching former students, community members, as well as the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the Fontana mayor’s office. Exceeding $5000 within hours, they ended up raising $27,000.
On Villaruel’s 77th birthday, he was surprised by his former students and community members singing “Happy Birthday”, whilst presenting the cheque of $27,000.
“It is an experience of my life that will be kept for the rest of my life. I carry it in my heart,” was how Jose Villaruel described the whole event.
Villaruel also added: “I felt that something was going to happen, that things were going to change, and it happened suddenly when I least expected it.”
The beloved teacher shared some wisdom as he talked about being homeless during the rainy and windy days. He 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.
“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.”