In our continuing blog series, we talk to some of our longest serving staffers, those in our "10-Plus Club" who have been part of the Foundation for 10 or more years. They share how their roles and the field has changed since they first joined The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF).
In this second installment, Finance Associate Colleen Geddes, talks to Research Programs Coordinator Kathleen Vestuto.
KV: When did you start at the Foundation?
CG: February 2006. I'll never forget this. I was told at first I was going to interview at some "confidential company," and a few days before the interview I was informed it was The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Well, that made me very nervous, so I tried very hard to prepare. And the more I read about the Foundation, the more I realized I would not just be working for a paycheck. I would be working for something very meaningful.
So I came in really wanting this job. And when I got it -- oh, boy, I was beyond excited! I was someplace where I knew I could make a difference.
KV: How different are your responsibilities now from when you started?
CG: It has been quite a journey. I was the Foundation's first receptionist. I think there were only about 15 people on board at the time, but I had to learn each individual's responsibility and how to support them.
I also had to learn how to answer questions from the public. We had so many calls from people with Parkinson's and their families asking for help. It was so important to let everyone who called know that we cared and that we would help them in the best possible way.
As the Foundation grew, my responsibilities grew -- I became like an octopus assisting every department as administrative assistant for the organization. When I began focusing on finance, tracking budgets and processing invoices, I fell in love with numbers. I've now have been a finance associate for four years.
KV: If you could choose one important change that has occurred since you started at the Foundation, what would it be, and why?
CG: Patient outreach and education, definitely. When I was the receptionist, we were primarily focused on grant funding, and I would need to refer patients to other groups and organizations for support. Now we have the capability to help both research scientists and patients.
Along those lines, our Partners in Parkinson's events have been tremendous. I love volunteering for these. At first I was a little shy about doing this, working directly with patients with their questions and concerns. But my first experience with a patient at the events was so wonderful - he was so optimistic, so positive and so thankful for the information I gave him. It just made me feel extremely proud to work for the Foundation.
KV: What do you think is the biggest contribution of the Foundation to the field?
CG: I find the work in genetics fascinating. The Foundation was in the early stages of the LRRK2 gene mutation studies when I started, and now LRRK2 is a priority area. It's amazing to think that therapies targeting this mutation could lead to treatments for those even without the mutation.
KV: What has made you stay for the past 10+ years?
CG: The people! Not everyone's personality is the same, and that's the beauty of it. We have some unique personalities and very, very smart people.
And Michael is a huge inspiration. Did I tell you he called me on my 10th anniversary? I couldn't believe it was him: "Michael? You mean Michael-Michael?" He was amazing. He told me how much he appreciated my sticking it out here for 10 years. I told him I'll keep going on with him until we find a cure.
Then I ran around the office telling everybody, "Michael called me!" Nobody could have touched me that day.
KV: What has changed in your life since you started here?
CG: I've learned, why sit back and watch when you can do something? With the support of my co-workers, I developed the confidence to finish my education. I obtained my degree in legal studies at John Jay College and am now looking into a master's degree in accounting.
I think I have become more tolerant. I smile more. When I started working here, I had just lost my husband, and I wasn't really in a great place. Working with people who have such strength and such commitment to move forward has changed me. Sure, I have my moments sometimes, but the majority of the moments that I have now are joyous ones.
KV: What's the most important advice anyone at the Foundation gave you?
CG: Controller Stephen Grubb once said to me, "Stop holding on to the past. Go on to the future." That's something that has had a great impact on me.
But I'd also add something else: it's not so much advice to me personally, but example. It's something I've learned from the patients and from Michael himself. Don't ever stop. No matter what.
Read the first 10-Plus Club interview with CEO Todd Sherer, PhD.
Interested in joinig our team? Check the Careers page for open positions.