Stonington man's faith inspired journey from addiction to helping others

WARM Shelter volunteer Scott Piscatelli Dec. 21 at the shelter in Westerly.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
WARM Shelter volunteer Scott Piscatelli Dec. 21 at the shelter in Westerly. (Tim Cook/The Day)

Stonington — One night in December 2001, self-described “blackout drinker” Scott Piscatelli of Pawcatuck got “hammered” at Foxwoods, then drove his mother home.

Later, a friend told him he had a drinking problem, something he had heard many times before, but this time he went to the hospital. There, a doctor told him he would be dead within year if he kept drinking.

Upon returning home, appalled at placing his mother in danger and scared of dying, Piscatelli dropped to his knees. Sobbing, he asked God for help.

“I never prayed in my life. I thought it was a joke to go to church,” he said last week while sitting at a table in the WARM shelter in Westerly, where he volunteers most days.

“God, I don’t know who you are,” prayed Piscatelli, now 47.

Thirty seconds later his life had changed.

“When I got up from praying I knew he would do this for me. It was the most incredible feeling I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “When I got up from my knees, something was gone.”

The date when his life changed — 12-3-01 — is tattooed on his arm.

While sobriety has not always been easy, Piscatelli said, he's done it with his faith, a healthy lifestyle, cutting ties with some people and helping others.

After getting sober, a friend of his began asking him to go to church with him.

“I always said, 'I'm good.' But every Sunday, it crossed my mind,” he said.

Two years went by before he finally called his friend to say he would attend a service.

When he opened the doors to the Faith Baptist Church in Westerly, he said, the feeling he had that night when he got down and prayed for the first time hit him again.

“Tears came out of my eyes. I knew I was home. I felt he was pulling me to him,” he said.

Soon he learned the church would no longer be able to organize the first Friday of the month dinner at the WARM shelter, more formally known as Westerly Area Rest and Meals.

So Piscatelli volunteered. And for the last 10 years, he has purchased the ingredients, and prepared and served his signature dish of chili cottage pie with pasta and vegetables to about 50 people. For the past two years, he has also served a meal on the second Friday of each month.

But his faith-inspired volunteer work doesn’t end there. The owner of his own landscaping business, Paradise Gardens, he can be found at the shelter most days of the week cutting the lawn, putting up Christmas decorations, talking to residents or helping with fundraisers such as the annual Penguin Plunge on Sunday. For the past five years he’s also thrown a Christmas party for shelter residents.

“This is where I feel comfortable," he said. "Coming from addiction, I know the people here need to feel OK. I see me here, and I want to help.”

Joy Cordio, the shelter’s events and volunteer coordinator, said that whatever Piscatelli is asked to do, he does. She said he solicits donations and sponsors for the organization’s fundraisers and, at Christmas, he buys gifts for each shelter resident. She said the presents are not generic items such as gift cards.

“He knows who’s a Patriots fan and who’s a Cowboys fan. He knows what kind of jewelry someone likes. It’s very personal, and it all comes 100 percent from his heart,” she said.

Cordio said the “crown jewel" of Piscatelli’s work came two years ago. She said some of the people who come to the shelter live in the woods, and shelter staff frequently go out and check on them. But, she said, Piscatelli went even further at Christmas, carrying presents out to their encampments.

“The thing about Scott is he’ll pop in here during the day with the excuse of getting a cookie in the kitchen. But he’ll stay and check in with our residents. He knows every one of them by name. He’s a mentor and provides peer support. It’s uplifting for them,” she said.

“When you talk to him, he’ll tell you ‘the Lord has blessed me.’ And when something good happens to one of our clients, they get a job or housing, and they say they are lucky, he’ll correct them and say, ‘You’re blessed,’” Cordio said.

Two years ago, Piscatelli approached Ray G. Jones Jr., pastor of the Lighthouse Community Baptist Church in Pawcatuck, and offered to help with the church’s landscaping.

“We just hit it off,” Piscatelli said.

Since then, the two men have spent many hours working together while discussing their shared faith.

“He’s just a very generous, sincere and humble person. These are all core values of our church, so that really resonates with me,” Jones said. “He’s that way because of his faith. His life has been transformed by Christ.”

Jones called Piscatelli, who also donates gifts for the needy, “a blessing” for his church.

As for why he helps out, Piscatelli said it's a way to give reverence and praise to God.

“There’s always a need to serve,” he said. “There’s no reason for people not to help each other except for selfishness. You can always find the time to do it.”

For Piscatelli, helping out at WARM and the church is a “no brainer,” and he smiles broadly as he describes his volunteer work.

“When you have the experience I’ve had, you just change,” he said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

WARM Shelter volunteer Scott Piscatelli Dec. 21 at the shelter in Westerly.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
WARM Shelter volunteer Scott Piscatelli Dec. 21 at the shelter in Westerly. (Tim Cook/The Day)

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