Steven Nava of Fontana, California, was on his way to work one morning when he saw a familiar figure rummaging through the trunk of a nearby car.
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All day, Steven struggled to remember the identity of the older man. After a little while, it finally hit him.
The man was none other than Jose Villarruel, a substitute teacher Steven had when he was still a student at Fontana High School. Mr. V had been one of Steven’s favorite teachers.
“He really stuck to me just because of the way he was so nice around his students,” he explained. “He’d ask how your day would go, did you eat, just small little details like that. He’d be really, really funny when he took attendance.”
A few days later, Steven returned to the same parking lot to chat with Jose. That’s when he learned that Mr. V had fallen on tough times. His wife and children are in Mexico, so he sends most of his money to them each month. For the past eight years, he’s been living in his car, even while substitute teaching. But when most schools went remote during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Jose suddenly found himself out of work and in an even worse situation.
Steven was so moved that he opened his wallet and gave Mr. V all of the money inside, about $300, right then and there. As the two of them embraced, Steven spotted a tear rolling down the 77-year-old teacher’s face. The younger man suddenly felt strongly that it was his duty to help Mr. V get back on his feet.
“I’m going to get you out of this situation, one way or another. I’m going to find a way,” he told him. Steven immediately went home and started a GoFundMe called “Help Mr. V.” A few hours later, the fundraiser had earned $5,000, but Steven was just getting started!
The next day, he and some old high school friends took Mr. V out to lunch and gave him some other goodies to help him get by. Steven shared a video of the outing on TikTok, where it took off with hundreds of thousands of views.
Steven was soon able to present Jose with a check for $27,000 on his birthday. Afterward, he started a new GoFundMe, which has already racked up another $22,000. Jose says he had to hold back tears when he realized how far his student had gone to help him.
“From the bottom of my heart, I just had to resort to all of my self-control not to become sentimental about the whole thing and not to become nervous,” Jose said. “It was extremely exciting, totally unexpected, and great.”
When the San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department heard about the fundraiser, they decided to get involved, too. They secured a motel room that Jose can stay in for a month to help him get his life back on track. As for Steven, just seeing his former teacher smile and find hope after having none for so long makes the effort all worthwhile.
“Teachers play a huge part in our lives,” Steven said. “I felt like I needed to repay the favor.” He added that Mr. V helped him find his way when he was a teenager, so now it’s his turn to give back.
Jose plans to take a trip to Mexico to see his family with some of the money. He has accepted all the help “with an open heart” and feels confident that good things will continue to come his way in the future.
Share this story to thank Steven for not looking the other way when he spotted someone in need.
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