We all go through difficult times, and somehow we have the courage to fight and move forward despite the challenges we may face.
In many cases, the people who help you are strangers, who end up providing a glimmer of hope amid the darkness. As was the case with José Villaruel, a former substitute teacher who was unemployed after the pandemic and ended up homeless.
“During the last few weeks I did not notice an older man sitting in a vehicle in a parking lot near my house,” said Steve Nava, who found Villaruel.
After several days of seeing the same man in the parking lot, Nava discovered that Villaruel was one of his substitute teachers from his high school in the Fontana Unified School District.
“I noticed that he had all of his belongings in his car and that’s when I realized he was homeless,” said Nava, who later gave him $300 and helped him find a hotel.
“I had a mission to help the teacher who was going through a difficult time during the pandemic,” Nava added.
Nava said that he immediately opened a GoFundMe account to try to fundraise and help the teacher who bore the nickname Mr. V.
“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,” Nava said.
The story of Nava’s account with his former teacher moved him so much that he uploaded several videos on social media to ask for help and to lift the teacher back up on his feet.
“In a 24-hour period we surpassed the goal of $5,000 and in three days we raised $26,000,” Nava said.
News of Villaruel reached former students, community members, county employees and sheriff’s department, and even the Fontana mayor’s office.
Nava said Sheriff’s Department employees helped Villaruel with housing him at a hotel and the mayor’s office organized an event to spread the good news and deliver a check to the teacher beloved by his former students.
It seems that fate had it prepared, Villaruel was surprised on Thursday afternoon, the same day that he turned 77 years old.
With balloons and happy birthday singing from his former students and community members, Villaruel smiled again.
“It is an experience of my life that will be kept for the rest of my life, I carry it in my heart”, said Villaruel.
“I felt that something was going to happen, that things were going to change, and it happened suddenly when I least expected it,” he added.
Villaruel said that sometimes it was very windy or had to deal with the rain, but that he told 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.”
This teacher seems not only to have taught his students only math but also to have a big heart.
“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,” said Villaruel.