Earlier this month, a California man decided to start a GoFundMe campaign for his former substitute teacher who had been living out of his car. Just a week later, Steven Nava delivered the money raised to his teacher, Jose Villarruel from Fontana – all $27,000 of it. 

“From the bottom of my heart, I just had to resort to all of my self-control not to become sentimental about the whole thing and not to become nervous,” Villarruel told CNN. “It was extremely exciting, totally unexpected and great.”

The gift was in celebration of Villarruel’s 77th birthday on March 11. The substitute for the Los Angeles Unified School District had been living out of his car for eight years, and was surprised by several former students who wanted to celebrate his special day with him. 

After the pandemic hit last year, Villarruel saw a need for substitutes decreasing. He was already living in his car due to spending most of his earnings on his wife, children, and family in Mexico. Nava said he saw his former teacher in the parking lot of a senior center earlier in the month and gave him $300. Nava promised to get him out of his current situation. 

“He really stuck to me just because of the way he was so nice around his students,” Nava said. “He’d ask how your day would go, did you eat, just small little details like that. He’d be really, really funny when he took attendance.”

Thanks to a popular TikTok video Nava made, which had been viewed 1.7 million times, he earned the $27,000 in just a few days. 

“It’s a great feeling to have this change and I still have to adapt to it so I can make the best of it,” Villarruel said. “It was unexpected but I accept it with an open heart and I’m ready for whatever comes next. I know good things will come.”