Teacher's gift brings family together

December 21, 2005|by KAREN HANNA


Editor's Note: This is the seventh story in a 10-part series about people who make this holiday season brighter for others. The series concludes Christmas Eve.

Doug Pittsnogle says he believes the meaning of Christmas is lost in the hustle and bustle of getting and spending.

For the 31-year-old, the spirit of the holiday traveled by air this year - on a plane from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Pittsnogle, a South Hagerstown High School teacher, used money planned for Christmas presents to buy a plane ticket for the Puerto Rican wife and 9-month-old baby of an 18-year-old South High student. The student, who moved here from Puerto Rico in the summer, was reunited with his family Saturday, Pittsnogle said.


"I don't want any thanks or praise. I don't think I did anything special. It's just something I think we ought to do for our brothers and our sisters," Pittsnogle said earlier this month.

Jorge Aviles Rojas left Josfita Ramos Rojas, his wife of two years, and his baby, Jos L. Aviles Ramos, behind when he and his parents and five brothers - ranging in age from about 11 to 17 - moved to the area in August looking for better opportunities. Because they had no clothes or supplies, Pittsnogle said the boys did not start school until October.

"It feels sad with her in Puerto Rico and me here. It feels sad, but now, I'm happy," Jorge said.

Jorge's mother cried as she held Jos in her arms after Josfita's plane arrived, Pittsnogle said Tuesday. Pittsnogle said he drove to Washington Dulles International Airport to pick up Jorge's family.

Pittsnogle said when Jorge's family arrived in Hagerstown, Jorge's mother had an announcement for her son and daughter-in-law.

"And the mom said (that) she said, 'Sorry Jorge. Sorry Josfita. But the baby is sleeping with me,'" Pittsnogle said.

Jorge, who left Puerto Rico just a month before becoming a paramedic, said he intended to work so he could save money to send for Josfita and Jos. That would take "a year or more, I'd say," Jorge said.

According to Pittsnogle, who teaches English language learners, Jorge was discouraged when he picked up his first paycheck from a local fast-food restaurant - $37 for working about 10 hours a week. He, his brothers - who attend South High and E. Russell Hicks Middle School - and parents have been living in a homeless shelter, and Jorge's father works long hours as a construction laborer, Pittsnogle said.

"He didn't want to ask for anything. He didn't ask. Nobody asked for anything. None of them. Not one thing," Pittsnogle said.

A cat lover who adopted three dogs the weekend he bought a house, Pittsnogle said he believes people should treat others and animals as they would want to be treated. People who have something others need should share it, even if their own needs go unmet, Pittsnogle said.

That's why when Pittsnogle found out about Jorge's story, he canceled his eBay orders for presents for his family and went shopping. He said he bought toiletries and stuffed his Jeep Liberty with food and clothes from home - twice. Teachers at the high school and middle school, where Pittsnogle taught last year, donated furniture so the Rojases could move into a place of their own.

Jorge said he is looking forward to spending time with his family.

Jorge said he hopes to continue his EMS classes at Washington County Technical High School so he can "help other people."

"I wanted a good life for my wife and son," Jorge said.

Thursday: Claire Seibert of Hagerstown

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