On Steven Nava's 5 a.m. walk to work one day, he noticed an elderly man rummaging through the trunk of his car and felt an odd pang of familiarity. Later in the day, he realized it was Mr. V, a substitute teacher who had taught him at Fontana High School in Los Angeles. He recalled the memorable teacher was always kind and paid attention to the small details of his students. After working up the courage to approach him, Nava returned to the parking lot a few days later and spoke with Mr. Villarruel, discovering that he had been living in his car for eight years to send the majority of his paycheck to his sick wife and family in Mexico. The pandemic had dissolved the need for substitute teachers over the last year. Moved to give him all the money in his pocket, Nava went home and created a GoFundMe campaign for Mr. V, saying, "Teachers play a huge part in our lives. I felt like I needed to repay the favor." Within three days, more than $27,000 had been raised, with many donations from former students. As the story went viral, on March 10 the county's homeless outreach coordinated a month-long motel room while longer-term housing could be arranged. The next day, incidentally, was Mr. V's 77th birthday, and Nava and other former students surprised him with the money. "He helped us with our futures and being the persons we are today, so I wanted to help him and make sure he's in a situation where he doesn't have to worry anymore," Nava said.
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