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Student raises money for teacher living in his car

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/23/2021 Angela Blakely, USA TODAY
Student raises money for teacher living in his car
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After years of helping students in the classroom, this former substitute teacher is getting payback in the best way. 

Jose Villarruel, lovingly nicknamed Mr. V, has been a substitute teacher for decades.  

In 2013, Villarruel started working as a substitute teacher for the Fontana Unified School District.  

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Steven Nava, a former student, remembers meeting Mr. V during his freshman year of high school in 2014. 

"He was a pretty cool teacher and like, you know, he wasn't like those sorts of substitute teachers that would just take attendance and then, you know, just sit and have the whole class go crazy," said Nava. "He was like really passionate about making sure everybody, you know, is actually getting something out of the whole lecture." 

a man wearing a uniform: When Steven Nava discovered his former substitute teacher was living in his car, he went above and beyond to help Mr. V get back on his feet. © Provided by USA TODAY When Steven Nava discovered his former substitute teacher was living in his car, he went above and beyond to help Mr. V get back on his feet.

"The greatest satisfaction that I get for teaching is after I present a particular topic... somehow I sense that the students, the students finally got it. They finally understood," said Villarruel. 

After graduating high school, Nava started to notice Mr. V in his neighborhood. 

"I really honestly never got the impression that you know, he was homeless or anything. And then until like now this year I started seeing him more frequently," Nava said. 

At first, Nava would see Mr. V at the fast-food restaurant near his community college. Then, Nava noticed Mr. V would be parked in his neighborhood every morning on his way to work.  

Little did Steven know, Mr. V had been living out of his car for nearly 8 years. 

"The income from the district is not reliable. You don't know how much you're going to make a month," said Villarruel. "I said, 'I'll just stay in my car, make arrangements.' And people started giving me blankets and things. And I adapted the back of my car as a bedroom." 

One day, Steven went up to his former teacher and asked Mr. V about his situation. 

"So, unfortunately, he didn't have a job and, you know, I can imagine you're a substitute and all the schools are closed, and all the schools are online, so that doesn't really leave anybody or any substitute teachers to have a job." said Nava. 

Prior to the pandemic, Villarruel had used restaurants and a local senior center to provide all the things his car couldn't.  

When the pandemic forced many businesses to close and schools to go online for distance learning, Villarruel said a hard situation got more difficult. 

"I'm surprised at myself how I was able to do everything at the car because it served me as a, uh, bedroom. It certainly was a dining room. It served me as a restroom. It served me as a computer workstation. And of course, it's serving as transportation as well." said Villarruel. 

According to Fox11 Los Angeles, without a steady income from teaching, Villarruel decided to resign from the school district, so that he could collect his pension. The money from his pension didn't last long. 

When Villarruel told Nava about his living situation, Nava immediately gave him $300 and paid for a hotel room. But Nava wanted to do more. 

Nava was able to find temporary housing for Nava through the county, but he wanted to help Villarruel find a more permanent solution. 

"And so, I'm like, you know what, dude, I'm going to do this GoFundMe right now," said Nava. "And so, I just made the account. And the original goal was $5,000. And I'm like, all right, you know, hopefully we can get a couple of donations. Like, I'm pretty sure it's not going to go that big." 

Within 24 hours, Steven's GoFundMe raised about $4,000.

"I found out that his birthday was that upcoming Thursday, two days after my birthday. And so when I found that out, I'm like, that leaves me enough time to raise a good amount of money," said Nava. "And since we were already at $4,000, I just raised up the goal to $10,000." 

By Mr. V's birthday, more than $27,000 had been raised. 

Nava's GoFundMe had gained a lot of attention from the media, local officials, and former students. No one could wait to surprise Villarruel with all the money they had raised.  

"The few days before he kept on saying that he would like me to be at the senior center parking lot in Fontana at a particular time," said Villarruel. 

The Mayor of Fontana, Nava, and many of Villarruel's other former students gathered on his 77th birthday to present him with the $27,000 check. 

"I finally kind of understood in a matter of a few seconds, why Steven said it is a surprise for you. It was something extraordinary at that particular occasion. And I felt great," said Villarruel 

Nava thinks no one is more deserving than Mr. V. "Mr. V is a prime example of the definition, never give up. Um, he's, he's lived in his car for seven years. He kept going. He never gave up." 

Villarruel plans to use the money to pay off debt and find a better living arrangement. 

"I'm not lucky I'm blessed. It's a different word altogether," Said Villarruel. "I'm not lucky. I'm blessed. I've been blessed." 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Student raises money for teacher living in his car



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