Friends and family of the Ciappa family poured into in Wantagh this past Sunday afternoon to remember a special young lady that left them all too soon.
Natalie Ciappa, a beloved friend, sister, daughter and granddaughter, scholar student and valued member of the Plainedge High School cheerleading squad, died from a heroin overdose at a Seaford house party in June 2008, just three days before her high school graduation.
What most didn't know is that Ciappa of Massapequa struggled with a drug addiction the final months of her life.
"We never had a chance to get Natalie into rehab," said her mother, Doreen, of her only daughter. "Since losing her, we've learned that this is a big problem in our area."
When their daughter passed, the Ciappa family felt they needed to fight to make a change for others like Natalie. Shortly after her death, "Natalie's Law" was put into effect.
"Little did we know that Plainedge and Massapequa were having major heroin problems that were kept quiet," said Mrs. Ciappa. "With the new drug mapping law, anytime there's an arrest with drugs, either in the school district or involving somebody from the school district, a mark gets put on that town."
The Ciappa family also initiated "The Good Samaritan Law", which is currently waiting on approval from the New York State Senate.
"When we found Natalie, the party host [Seewoo Sung of Seaford] was cleaning up rather than helping her when she was in trouble and unconscious," said Mrs. Ciappa as she recalled that terrible morning.
"The kids panic because they're so scared they'll get into trouble," she added. "This new law allows a degree of amnesty so they can report an overdose or similar problem without worrying."
In addition to the new proposals, the Ciappa family has also held the annual benefit at Mulcahy's to raise money and awareness for the Samaritan Foundation. The non-profit foundation funds a rehabilitation facility called Samaritan Village Rehab Center that left the Ciappas very impressed.
"They really don't turn anybody away," said Mrs. Ciappa of the Queens location. "If somebody comes there who needs help, they don't ask about finances. There is no such thing as somebody having to leave because their insurance runs out or they have financial issues."
Sunday's event featured live music from WRXP 101.9, along with raffles and a dinner buffet. Large screens around the bar displayed memories of Ciappa with her family and friends, bringing an instant smile and occasional tear to guests who stopped to watch.
Though the amount of money raised on Sunday is not yet known, Mrs. Ciappa said they were hoping to top last year's total of $12,000.