At the age of 77, José Villarruel, who for decades worked as a substitute teacher, quit his job once online classes started. He ran out of money and started living out of his car until a former student saw him and started raising money to surprise him on his birthday.
Recently, a 77-year-old teacher received one of the best gifts and gestures possible: a check for $27,000 raised by a former student. The man worked as a substitute teacher at a school in California, United States, but decided to resign because he felt that his work would no longer be necessary with online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Today, with that money, he will no longer have to live in his car on the streets.
Having just turned 77 years old last Thursday, March 11, José Villarruel, also known as “Mr. V” by his students, received a gift he never imagined. In the middle of a surprise birthday celebration, his former student, Steven Nava (21), presented him with a check for $27,000 in Fontana, California.
Villarruel, who for decades has worked as a substitute teacher, told FOX 11, “I feel very lucky and very honored that I have taught in different institutions of different levels.”
However, despite the happiness that he feels for having passed on his knowledge for so long, he confessed that he quit his job in early 2020 because classes had moved to online learning. “I decided the school situation has changed completely and I believed that the job of a substitute was over. 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,” he told FOX.
Since then, his life changed completely. He had to live in his car. “My body has adapted to all the bumps and things from the seat. It serves as transportation, serves as a dining room and serves as a bedroom,” he told FOX 11.
Time passed and Villarruel was adjusting to his new life in his car, until the first days of March, when Steven Nava, a former student, came across him and was shocked.
“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 told FOX 11, adding that he “was just devastated and guttered for the reality of the pandemic and how it has left teachers without a job and 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.”
That desire turned into help, in part, after the young student recalled that Villarruel helped him on many occasions. “I said to him, ‘you helped me work on my study guide and you helped me eventually pass a math test.’”
Nava couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. He took $300 and gave it to Villarruel, but that wasn’t enough, so he decided to create a GoFundMe page to raise money for his former teacher.
He took to his social networks and shared the initiative, even posting it on TikTok, where it was a hit and went viral with more than 1.7 million views. “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,” the young man explained.
The case became increasingly known and reached the ears of the mayor of Fontana, Acquanetta Warren. This is how the mayor, along with some of Villaruel’s other former students, gathered at the Fontana Senior Community Center and waited for the teacher to surprise him on his birthday. “Everybody always recognized him because when he would go into the classroom, he always had such good energy and he would always be so sweet,” said Melissa Lopez, another of Villarruel’s former students.
That day, José Villarruel received a check for $27,000, in addition to other gifts, and confessed that “My initial thought was, ‘Am I dreaming?’ I still can’t get over this experience.”
For the moment, Villarruel intends to help others and reflects that “the greatest feeling that I have right now is like an obligation that I need to do a lot for the world and the greatest feeling is I can do it and I’m going to find a way to do it.”