Joe Wittkofski, left, a volunteer at Eden Gardens dementia care home in Nanaimo, has received recognition for his work from the Health Employers Association of B.C. He is pictured here with Tony Woods, Eden Gardens’ cook of 40 years. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

Volunteer wins provincial award for chronicling life at Nanaimo dementia care home

Joe Wittkofski recognized by Health Employers Association of B.C.

A Nanaimo volunteer has helped keep seniors’ minds sharp at Eden Gardens, earning him provincial recognition.

The Gold Apple awards, presented by the Health Employers Association of B.C., recognize individuals and teams in the province’s health care community. Prior to loosening of COVID-19 visitation restrictions on March 25, access to the long-term dementia care facility had been limited, and the work of Joe Wittkofski, a five-year volunteer at Eden Gardens, has lifted spirits.

Wittkofski, who formerly owned a video company in the U.S., has photographed and filmed residents, helping to bridge the gap with their families. He has contributed to Eden Gardens’ fundraising efforts, taking photos for calendars, hanging his works on the walls and working with local quilters to adorn the walls of Eden Gardens with the bright textiles.

Sandy Parise, executive assistant at Eden Gardens, said Wittkofski’s work has stimulated residents’ minds at the dementia care facility.

“They love it when we share it with them. Their families love it when we share any of those events with the families as well,” said Parise. “Joe’s also done a lot for engagement when the families take their loved ones up the hall. He’s done little picture montages of different scenes that will twig their reminiscent memories as well.”

Tony Woods, Eden Gardens’ longtime cook, also said Wittkofski’s “amazing” work is valuable.

“It makes a difference in the residents as they can go back and look at these and it makes a big difference for the staff too because we don’t all get to engage in all of these things and see what’s going on … it takes a big thing for a person to volunteer their time to come in make everyone else’s day a little bit brighter,” said Woods.

In terms of his feelings about the award, Wittkofski said he was caught off-guard.

“I’m more embarrassed than anything because I really feel like what I’m doing here is so insignificant compared to what the people who work here do,” Wittkofski said. “That was my whole rationale for getting involved in this, because when I first came over and you see the love and care that these people [give] 24 hours a day … I thought I should be able to do something here.”

Parise said Eden Gardens is currently short of volunteers. Anyone looking to assist is asked to visit

RELATED: Eden Gardens’ calendar features Beatles-inspired pic

READ ALSO: B.C. gov’t to allow more visitors at senior care facilities

READ ALSO: Eden Gardens wants to make new forest trail more accessible

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