A community in San Jose, California, is helping out a special education teacher who lost his fiancee in April and lost his home to the California wildfires.
Nelson Southward, 56, is still doing virtual learning from his parents’ house in Santa Cruz as he tries to put his life back together, KTVU reported. His students describe him as a “big bear” who drives a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Southward’s students, fellow teachers, friends, and family are all rallying around him to keep him strong.
Southward has taught special education in San Jose for 23 years, and he has dressed up as Santa Claus each year. He has also suffered tremendous loss.
First, his fiancee Tracey, his partner and best friend of 12 years, died of a brain aneurysm in April. Then, Southward lost his home and nearly all his possessions when California wildfires struck the Santa Cruz mountains where he lived.
The only thing left on Southward’s property is his mailbox, and everything he shared with his late fiancee is gone except her ring.
“I’ve got her ring,” said Southward. “I’ve worn it since I lost her.”
“Honestly if you joined our Zoom sessions you would have no idea that he is going through so much right now,” said teacher Julianna Flores, who co-teaches first grade with Southward at Los Arboles Elementary School in San Jose.
Teachers have set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for Southward to get back on his feet again. The fundraiser has raised more than $14,700 as of Saturday afternoon.
Southward’s students have sent him money and written him encouraging letters.
The Santa Clara Association of Realtors, where Southward’s late fiancee was active in the organization, also made a GoFundMe account to help Southward.
The outpouring of generosity from Southward’s community is inspiring him to “keep going.”
“It makes me want to keep going,” said Southward. “I want to give back to who’s giving back to me.”