Volunteering brings smiles to Allen Scarpetti and all those in his path.
Allen Scarpetti’s official title at Torrance Memorial Medical Center is Greeter, but a more apt title would be “smile getter.” The 59-year-old volunteers in the hospital’s West Wing—helping people find their way around. He greets everyone with a smile and hopes to get a smile in return.
“Everyone’s got a smile somewhere tucked behind the face we see,” says Scarpetti, a Gardena native who now lives in Redondo Beach with his wife of 24 years, Denise. “If you smile at someone, they will likely smile back.”
He believes that giving a smile can help change a person’s experience while in the hospital. “When people come to the hospital, they can be nervous, anxious, confused or sad. So I try and greet everyone with a smile,” says the father of two sons, ages 19 and 22. “Everybody’s got the ability to loosen up their emotions, but they often need a little encouragement. It takes more of an effort to frown and be in a place of unhappiness than it does to smile and be in a happy place. My ultimate goal as a greeter is to have a pleasing demeanor and one that sends a favorable message to the hospital’s visitors.”
His outgoing nature makes him an ideal person to be a Greeter. “I’m a social person,” says Scarpetti, who works in real estate and mortgage banking. “I can be in an elevator and say hello to everybody, whereas most people might be a little uncomfortable.”
Scarpetti started volunteering at Torrance Memorial in November 2011 as his way of giving back for the tremendous help he got in rebuilding his life. Eight years ago, Scarpetti and his family were on vacation in Hawaii. He and his then 14-year-old son Justin were playing in the water when a large wave knocked Scarpetti over, slamming his head into a sandbar and leaving him in a coma. When he woke up a few days later, he learned of the accident and that he was paralyzed from the neck down, caused by a spinal cord injury.
He was airlifted to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, where he was a patient in the hospital’s Transitional Care Unit for 30 days, followed by another month in a Long Beach rehab facility. Once he returned home, with the help of his assistant Glen Tullen, he spent the next year in intense rehabilitation and began getting sensation and function back.
“It turns out my spinal cord wasn’t severed; it was bruised at the C5 vertebrae level,” he says. “The clinical classification for one with my injury is incomplete quadriplegic.” Through years of rehab, Scarpetti now has limited use of his legs and arms, and he uses a walker and a wheelchair.
“Today I can walk short distances with my walker, although my doctor doubted it would happen. And I drive a ramp van so I can take my wheelchair with me wherever I go. I live each day as best I can and never stop believing in myself. I’m grateful to God to be alive today and don’t know how I could have survived the battle of recovery without my wife and family being there for me and Glen pushing me daily to work harder.”
When Scarpetti’s friend Elena Bruns mentioned how much she enjoyed volunteering at the hospital, he felt motivated to also volunteer. “I like helping people,” he says. “I often roll alongside them to their destination, at which time they always convey an appreciation to me—and for me, it’s rewarding.”
Volunteering has proven such a good fit, Scarpetti joined the board of directors of the hospital’s volunteer Auxiliary, overseeing public relations activities and their monthly newsletter. “Blessings can be found in the hardships,” he muses. “When you’re on this side of the chair, you see life from a different perspective.”