West Seneca East High School junior Mindy Zielinski believes kindness is a chain reaction.
Mindy, a patient at the Jacobs Neurological Institute, crossed the finish line at the sixth annual Jog for the Jake 5K run around Delaware Park on Sunday, raising more than $1,000 to be used for research at the institute's Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center.
"It started off as a school project," Mindy said about her desire to help the center.
After her class saw the movie "Pay It Forward," a story based on the idea that one act of kindness inspires other acts of kindness, her teacher asked students to come up with a project that would help at least three people.
But Mindy wanted to do something bigger. She wanted to help kids who suffer from a neurological disease as she does.
About a year ago, she was diagnosed with optic neuritis, a neurological condition that can result in difficulty seeing and even blindness.
"I belong to the pediatric center," she said. "I understand what they're going through. I've been through a lot, and I want to help these kids find a cure. I want to give them hope.
"This is bigger than I thought it ever could be. I didn't expect it. A lot more people cared than I thought."
Members of "Mindy's Team" who participated in the race included her mom, Cheryl Gerrity; her father, Paul Zielinski; her stepfather, Mike Gerrity; and her brother, Mike Gerrity Jr., as well as other family members and friends.
"She wanted to help find out why these [diseases] are happening to kids," Cheryl Gerrity said.
"We are so proud of her."
Dr. Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, director of the Pediatrics Multiple Sclerosis Center at the institute, sees Mindy's dedication as a wonderful and unusual thing.
"You see these things in adults, but this is a child," Weinstock-Guttman said. "Adolescents have other things to do. But she took her own initiative. This was her own idea. She put her time and energy into it and thought about the benefits of the research program."
While Weinstock-Guttman said she was touched by her patient's kind-hearted commitment, she was not surprised.
"Mindy is a wonderful positive patient," she said. "From the beginning she has been willing to fight. Taking medications and doing tests is a difficult combination. She never complained. Whatever we recommended, she was open to do it."
More than 1,000 participants took part in the race, which raised more than $120,000 to support the Jacobs Neurological Institute's research and patient care programs throughout Western New York.
"We are an institute without walls," said Dr. Rick Munschauer, the chief of institute. "All funds support neurological advances in Western New York. Last year, the money was used in discovering new methods for treating multiple sclerosis and for more effective technology."
Over the past five years, more than $500,000 has been raised through the institute's annual Jog for the Jake race, which honors the late Lawrence D. Jacobs, a physician widely known for his advances in multiple sclerosis research and treatment.
The event also included a kids dash around the Nichols School baseball diamond, bounce houses, a children's art activity by Albright-Knox Art Gallery and animal ambassadors from the Buffalo Zoo.
While her devotion has impressed those around her, for Mindy, it was just returning the favor.
"When I was going through everything, it was about the simple things and knowing that someone cared," she said.