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After seeing a fond former teacher down on his luck, one student helped rescue and repay him in an unforgettable fashion.

En route to work every day, Steve Nava noticed something peculiar: a man sitting in a vehicle near his house. With time, he realized that he wasn’t carpooling or waiting for someone.

I noticed that he had all of his belongings in his car, and that’s when I realized he was homeless.

Steve Nava to NBC Los Angeles.

Out of place

When he looked closer, Nava realized that it wasn’t just anyone, rather José Villaruel, affectionately known as ‘Mr. V,’ a former substitute teacher in Southern California.

After talking to him, Nava learned that Villaruel was homeless during the pandemic and was living out of his car. Yet, Nava found out that it wasn’t the worst part.

“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.”

They rallied around Mr. V

Hearing his plight, Nava’s decision was simple.

I had a mission to help the teacher who was going through a difficult time during the pandemic.

– Steve Nava

With that, he found him a hotel and gave him $300. However, Nava didn’t stop there as he took to Twitter asking his peers for help along with starting a GoFundMe page.

“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.”

A life-changing birthday gift

The reaction was overwhelming. Former students shared fond memories of Mr. V.

One former student tweeted “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?.”

“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!!!” added another.

Along with students, county employees, the Sheriff’s office, and even the Fontana mayor’s office got involved spreading the word.

The efforts paid off, raising $27,000 in just three days, crushing Nava’s goal of $15,000.

As destiny would have it, Villaruel’s birthday was that week. So, surrounded by former students, he was presented with the check for $27,000 amidst a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” It was a gift like no other.

It is an experience of my life that will be kept for the rest of my life. I carry it in my heart. I felt that something was going to happen, that things were going to change, and it happened suddenly when I least expected it.

José ‘Mr V’ Villaruel

Pay it forward

Nava told TODAY that the message sent to Mr. V meant far more than the money.

I want him to feel that he’s cared and loved by all those who he’s helped along the years.

– Steve Nava

We all have one or two teachers who’ve made a difference in our lives. They challenge us, encourage us to think bigger and most of all, to be our best selves at times when we’re still discovering who we are.

And they probably have no clue.

You don’t need to go to Nava’s length to say thank you, small gestures move mountains. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find Mr. Ford to thank him for making Biology class a blast.

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