Letter from the heart – thoughts from an autism advocate on leaving the stem cell agency

Serving on the Board of an organization is not exactly glamorous. It often involves a lot of in-depth reading and long, sometimes really long, meetings in windowless rooms at hotels near an airport. Serving on the Board of the stem cell agency can be particularly challenging because of the complex nature of the work we are trying to do, that’s why I have always been impressed by the dedication of the members of our Board. They put in long hours and a huge amount of work to make sure we fund the best research. Now, one member of that Board, Jonathan Shestack is stepping down. Jon was the patient advocate for mental health (you can read about his replacement here). Before he left Jon wanted to share his thoughts about his time with the stem cell agency, and the pleasure it give him to be part of it. Here’s Jon’s letter:

I can’t tell you what an honor it has been to serve on this board. I admit that there were many times when I was so in awe of the qualifications and talents of my colleagues that I felt like a kid who was mysteriously allowed to sit at the adult table.

Over eight years there were moments that were inspiring, some were contentious, and there was a bruising number of meetings but through it all, the board was involved, passionate and, will forever be for me, the gold standard when it comes to integrity.

The same goes double for the staff—truly the most excellent, devoted, committed group of people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

I am proud to have played a small role in establishing the most robust environment for stem cell science in the world, one that will certainly lead to treatments and cures in our lifetime and the lifetime of our loved ones.

But the biggest privilege was being able to be an advocate for the people of California, in particular for those affected by mental illness. Often, these are our most vulnerable citizens. Frequently they are our youngest and most powerless, and to give them a voice is a great gift.

I want to thank CIRM for giving me hope, and for giving so many of us a place to turn hope into work.


Jonathan Shestack

You can see bios of all governing board members on our website, along with information for CIRM’s funding for autism research.

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