A former substitute teacher who was living in his car was gifted with a $27,000 check by a former student.

By Koco McAboy

Jose Villarruel, lovingly known as “Mr. V” by his students, turned 77 years old on Thursday. His former student, Steven Nava, now 21, decided to arrange a celebration for Villarruel.

Villarruel has served as a substitute teacher for decades.

“I feel very lucky and very honored that I have taught in different institutions of different levels,” he said.

In early 2020, Villarruel said he resigned after schools shifted to distance learning.

Villarruel has been living out of his car ever since.

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

His former student, Steven Nava, came across Villarruel one week ago in his car and recognized him.

Nava said he remembers Villarruel helping him during his school years.

“I said to him you helped me work on my study guide and you helped me eventually pass a math test,” he said.

Nava initially gave Villarruel $300, and then decided to start a GoFundMe page to help Villarruel get back on his feet. He shared it all over social media, including TikTok. Villarruel’s story went viral on TikTok with over 1.7 million views.  

The word spread to the Mayor of Fontana, Acquanetta Warren. Warren, former students of Villarruel and others gathered at the Fontana Community Senior Center for a celebration on Thursday.

Villarruel was presented with a $27,000 check, along with other gifts at the celebration Thursday.

“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,” he said.

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