“You’re a beautiful lady for doing this,” Donna Monzulla told Jean Aviles as she walked into the Joppa High School library Wednesday, Dec. 15.

New P.E. teacher John Paul Endab had been told a few days earlier he needed to be in the library at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. After finding out where the library is, he then asked what was going on.

‘You will know” was the only answer he received

“I thought I was in trouble,” he said. “Then I saw my landlord’s family and (really) thought I was in trouble.”

Instead, Endab, a native of the Philippines who arrived in Joppa on July 26 to become the new P.E. teacher at Maple Grove Elementary School and Joppa Junior/Senior High School, was getting a taste of southern hospitality and a gift just in time for Christmas.

“This is what I love about our community,” said Linda Shelby, JHS administrative assistant.

•••

It all started with a simple observation and comment from a student.

It was a Friday when Aviles’ great-niece got home from JHS and made a comment to her great-grandmother and Aviles about a teacher walking back and forth to school because he didn’t have a vehicle.

“I thought about it all that night,” Aviles said. “The next day, I thought, ‘I have two vehicles in my driveway. I haven’t used one since March.’ ”

That Sunday, while watching her church’s online service, her pastor made a comment about “someone needing a vehicle, and if you have one, give it away,” Aviles recalled. “I don’t know who he was referring to,” but it weighed on her mind, especially with her great-niece’s comment.

That Monday morning, Aviles called JHS, told Superintendent Dr. Vickie Artman she had a vehicle and “I asked if I could give it to him, but the shop class is going to have to work on it. They agreed to it,” she said. “I thought, ‘He needs that vehicle. I don’t know why, he just does. It’s not the best, but it’s a vehicle. It was the right thing to do. The good Lord told me it was the right time to get rid of it.”

Aviles is no stranger to JHS or its generosity. A former employee known as “Momma Jean,” she was a single mom when her three sons attended and graduated from JHS. She said it was that village that helped her raise them.

“This school has done so much for me in the past. They helped me with my boys so many times. If I can help somebody like they’ve helped me, by all means, that’s how we were raised,” Aviles said.

•••

And just like with Aviles’ sons, it took a village to make Endab’s gift possible.

“We have a former staff member who worked here and found out about this need. She has stepped up and come up with a van to be given to Mr. Endab,” Shelby said during Wednesday’s presentation. “I want to thank Jean Aviles for having a gracious heart, for hearing that call and meeting that need.”

Shelby also thanked several others for their answering the call to “work on and tweak,” the Pontiac Montana van:

• “I want to thank Jeff’s Automotive. They have thoroughly inspected the van and done a few minor repairs to the van. They towed it at no charge.

• “I want to thank Stewart’s Precision Auto Detailing for cleaning the van thoroughly — making it shine from the inside out. It looks perfect. I cannot thank you enough.

• “To Napa Auto Parts and Ryan Dukes. They were our heroes for the things we needed at the last minute and brought it out right away — not once, but twice. Thank you.

• “A special thank you to Mr. Goddard. (JHS auto body teacher Jeff) Goddard not only surrendered his time, but he surrendered his skills and talents to come up with ways to fix things that seemed unrepairable. He has these skills that are God-given.

• “To all the special monetary donors, we had money that was given to help meet some of these needs. For that I am eternally grateful.

“It’s so good to be a part of a community that knows a need, takes it as a challenge, meets it and exceeds it,” Shelby continued. “I cannot say how proud I am about all this that happened.”

J-MG principal Hunter Kreuter noted the Dec. 15 presentation “was a perfect gesture of how much the community appreciates the teachers here at the school. I cannot thank Linda Shelby enough for overseeing this and getting all of this put together. Everything that happened today was a culmination of her work over the last several weeks. And for Jean Aviles to do what she’s done. We have people in the community who saw a need and reached out and helped. You look at the community in general — working on the van, providing parts for the van, cleaning the van — it just shows the people here in Massac County care for one another and are trying to help out when they see a need.”

Aviles presented Endab with the van’s title and Goddard with its keys before everyone went to the auto body shop to see the “new” ride.

“Mr. Endab, you are our friend, our co-worker and we love you,” Shelby told him. “Thank you for taking the risk and being in the United States and being here to help our students grow, to love on them and care for them.”

•••

Endab is from Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. Located along the north central coast of Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippine archipelago, it is 8,605 miles from Joppa. It took three days of travel and delays for him to arrive in Joppa on July 26.

“John Paul Endab — my friend, my fellow co-worker — has left his family (wife Roxan and sons John Paul, 12, and Raphael, 13) behind in hopes to make a brighter future for them,” Shelby said. “He came with little, just his luggage, in hoping everything would line out. I believe that everything is happening in perfect timing — like he always tells me, God’s time.”

Upon his arrival, Endab was set up with a trailer by Bruce and Theresa Monzulla.

“I’m thankful for the Monzulla family making me comfortable at my trailer and providing me things,” he said.

The couple let him use their Jeep “anytime, but I’m not the person taking advantage of the kindness,” he said.

“Momma Linda (what he calls Shelby, who’s become a sister to him) knows I cannot really express my heartfelt gratitude. Coming here is an adventure for me. I’ve been in the Philippines 40 years. I celebrated my 41st birthday here. I take it as a challenge,” Endab continued. “It’s hard to be away from the family because we were used to being together day by day. This is my first time to be out of the country. The city I live in so overpopulated, crowded, polluted, noisy, traffic jams. Here, the trailer I’m living in is near a small forrest, orchard, fresh air — so refreshing and relaxing. I don’t like it, I love it here.”

•••

Endab’s adventure began in high school.

“I became a teacher because I have a third-year high school adviser who made a big impact in my life. I came from a very poor family — I have five sisters and four brothers, there were 10 of us. With that, you can see how struggling our family was,” he said. “I started in religious school and was often times absent in my class because I didn’t have fare for public transportation. This adviser was so kind and so understanding. There were moments she gave money so I could go to school each day. She’s really like a mother to me. She really took care of me as if I was her son. When I reached college, I dreamed of being a teacher. One of my favorite movies is ‘Pay It Forward.’ I’m now teacher, so I want to pay forward the kindness, the good things my former teacher did for me also.”

He decided to teach P.E. because “around 12 years old, I started playing different sports. My circle of friends was really into sports,” he said.

He taught at the elementary level for 15 years, then three years in the senior high school, along with part-time at the college level.

A few years ago, his wife Roxan, who is also a teacher, learned of a visa exchange program. They went to an orientation and he became interested in participating. Through the program, teachers have the opportunity to learn another culture and school system and then come back to share it in their own country.

Endab began the process to come to the United States in 2019. He applied to 50 different schools in different states “and was about to give it up” when former J-MG principal Dr. Jeffery Dufour called for an interview. He was scheduled to begin with J-MG with the 2020-21 school year.

And then COVID-19 hit, putting a stop to foreign travel.

“I’m so thankful to Dr. Vickie because she kept my contract for one school year,” Endab said. “This is really God’s time. This is the perfect time.”

To Maple Grove’s pre-kindergarteners and kindergartners, he’s Mr. J. To all his other students, he’s Mr. Endab.

“I’ve told my students I don’t just teach P.E., I teach life. In P.E. alone, we introduce a lot of sports. In sports, you learn a lot of values. It’s up to the students to understand the values. … I’m so particular with their physical fitness. Regardless of if you are into sports or any athletics, it boils down to individual physical fitness. They don’t have to wait for P.E. class to move around, do some stretches or some physical exercise. Even at home they can do it. ”

Kreuter said Endab is “a great person to bring on staff. He’s very pleasant. The kids enjoy having him here. We’re happy to have him. We’re happy we can help him and his family out any way we can.”

•••

Endab hopes to be joined by his family in February.

“My wife and kids are so excited about coming. There are a lot of lovely places to visit (in the area). I dream of going there with my family,” he said.

He said getting a vehicle was a goal for the 2022-23 school year.

“I did not expect it in this one,” he said, still in shock from the day’s surprise. “In God’s time, God’s grace and all of your generosity and kindness, we have one. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. Indeed, it’s God’s time to be here. … This is really unexpected. It’s a great Christmas gift.”

Artman said the gift was a way “many people opened their hearts to show John Paul how much he is cared about. They have given their time, experience and contributions so John Paul can have a vehicle to get to and from work. It is actions like this that demonstrate true kindness. I am so happy to be part of such a wonderful community.”

Endab video calls his family almost every day.

“For sure, my wife will be the most happiest person,” he said of when he gets to tell her of the gift. “Thank you so much, this is truly a wonderful day — a reason to celebrate my first Christmas in the United States without my family. God bless you.”

“You have a new family,” Donna Monzulla replied.

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