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Lifestyle & Human Interest

Substitute Teacher Living in His Car Stunned When Former Student Raises $27K to Help Him Get Back on His Feet

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When 21-year-old Steven Nava of Fontana, California, spotted a smartly dressed, older gentleman living out of his car, he realized he knew the man — and it tore him to pieces.

Jose Villarruel, whose students referred to him as “Mr. V,” fell on hard times last year when the pandemic changed the way schools operate.

Villarruel believed that the door had closed on his time as a substitute teacher, even though he’d been working in that capacity for decades.

“I decided the school situation has changed completely and I believed that a job of a substitute was over,” he told KTTV. “In May, I submitted my resignation. I managed to do all of the paperwork, all of the arrangements to get my pension. I got my check, but that check didn’t last long because I had debts already.”

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The old 90s Thunderbird he lived in is familiar, even if it’s not luxurious, and Villarruel seemed to have made peace with his situation.

“My body has been adapted to all of the bumps and things from the seat,” he explained. “It serves me as transportation, serves as a dining room, and serves as a bedroom.”

But while he may have had time to come to terms with living out of his car, Nava has not, and he decided that he was going to do something for the teacher who’d once helped him.

“I usually see him almost every single day and it got me thinking, ‘I’ve got to talk to him and know his situation,'” Nava explained.

“I was just devastated and gutted for the reality of the pandemic and how it’s left teachers without a job, and you know this is one of the results, and it’s sad to see one of your own teachers go through that, so it only makes you want to help out more.”

He gave Villarruel $300, but he wanted to do more. So he got on social media and started spreading humble Mr. V’s story.

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“Mr.V was a great funny and helpful educator and substitute teacher in the Fontana Unified School District,” Nava wrote on the GoFundMe he started. “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 getting back to normal life. Any help is appreciated, thank you god bless.”

“It’s just the power of social media is so big now and sometimes we need to use it for good, and not for bad,” Nava added.

So he tweeted. He posted on TikTok, and went viral — even the mayor of Fontana saw and wanted to get involved. Mr. V’s story was shared, funds came pouring in and a plan was made.

March 11 was Villarruel’s 77th birthday, so Nava and other former students decided that would be the best time to throw a party and present the former teacher with the unexpected monetary gift.

When Villarruel realized he was holding a check for $27,000, he was stunned.

“My initial thought was, ‘Am I dreaming?’ I still can’t get over this experience,” he said. Immediately, he started thinking of ways he could give back.

“The greatest feeling that I have right now is like an obligation that I need to do a lot for the world yet. And the greatest feeling is I can do it and I’m going to find ways of doing it.”

Thanks to the work he put in over the years, the bonds he created with students and the generosity of many former students and even strangers, Villarreal’s future holds many new possibilities.

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking