CHEK Upside: Nanaimo man’s creative camera work earns him most outstanding volunteer award

CHEK Upside: Nanaimo man's creative camera work earns him most outstanding volunteer award

For the past six years, Joe Wittkofski has brought smiles to the residents and staff at Eden Gardens.

“Joe is an exceptional volunteer,” said Erin Beaudoin, Executive Director of the non-profit Eden Gardens care facility. “You don’t have to ask him, he’s just always here anyway.”

He’s helped out with group excursions, fundraisers and job fairs. His biggest contribution, however, has come from behind the camera.

“I try to photograph any opportunity I can have here,” said Wittkofski, a retired media producer.

Over the pandemic, Joe’s been limited to the outdoors but has still helped capture COVID-safe moments such as an outdoor ballet performance, car parade and the Rotary Club’s unveiling of a new mural to help lift the resident’s spirits.

“Seeing people’s reaction to stuff I do — taking pictures of them, you know, it’s just so fulfilling,” said the Pittsburgh native who retired with his wife in Nanaimo in 2015.

Joe’s work with a camera is perhaps best exemplified by his annual calendars. He would recreate iconic photos and have the staff and residents, all of whom live with dementia, transform and come alive into their new roles.

“We had residents appearing in different outfits and costumes and things like that,” said Joe, whose recreations take inspiration from bands such as The Beatles and Johnny Cash.

“In capturing those moments I think, you know, especially with all of our elders living with dementia, you feel like you may forget some of those moments,” said Beaudoin. “So being able to put their picture on the wall when they walk down the hallway, they can be reminded of those moments of joy they had.”

Joe’s dedication was recently recognized by the Health Employers Association of BC, as he received the Gold Apple award for outstanding volunteer of the year. For Joe, however, it’s not about the hardware, but more so doing his part to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

“This is such a rewarding experience.”

When the pandemic restrictions are lifted, Joe plans to make a calendar for next year.

Eden Gardens nursing home is currently seeking volunteers, click here for more information.

Kevin CharachKevin Charach

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