Maria Costanzo said she still fondly remembers the passion her late daughter Dana had for helping those in need.
She recalled that her youngest of four daughters had a close bond with the special needs students that she taught at Elmont Memorial High School and with those she worked with as a teenager at Camp Anchor, a camp for children with special needs based in Lido Beach.
“That was her passion,” Costanzo said. “She always fought for the underdog. She had a big heart and was always the first one to help someone out.”
Though Dana died in December 2016 at age 35 from complications of type 1 juvenile diabetes, her legacy lives on. Her family founded the Princess Deeds Foundation in her memory, a nonprofit that raises money for scholarships for students at Elmont High, where she taught and coached cheerleading, and Lynbrook High School, of which she was an alumna, as well as for Camp Anchor.
The foundation is hosting a fundraiser on June 9 from noon to 4 p.m. at Lenox & Park, on 41 S. Park Ave., in Rockville Centre. Admission to the event costs $10, and there will be raffles, a 50/50 and a silent auction. The majority of the proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward Camp Anchor’s Anchor Program, which covers things that are not included in the camp’s budget, such as trips and parties. Portions of the funds will also go toward scholarships for students from Elmont and Lynbrook high schools who share the same drive to help others that Dana had.
Dana grew up in Lynbrook and was close with her three older sisters, Tara, Liza and Jena. Since she was the youngest, they often called her the “princess” of the family and her eight nieces and nephews had many nicknames for her, including “Deeds,” which is where the name of the foundation was derived.
After graduating from Lynbrook High, Dana went on to earn a degree in human services from the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, and a master’s in health administration from Hofstra University. She realized that health education was not her calling, Maria recounted, and attended St. John’s University, where she earned a master’s with honors in special education.
Dana eventually got a job as a special education teacher in Elmont and worked with the school’s Pals program, which focuses on special needs boys, and she also served as a varsity cheerleading coach for four years. “She made a big impression on her students and on her cheerleaders,” Maria said.
The Princess Deeds Foundation is in its second year and through the help of Dana’s friends, family and former co-workers, it has donated $10,000 to the Anchor Program. Their efforts also funded a kitchen that was built at Elmont High, which students will use to learn daily life skills.
Maria described her daughter as the “family stylist,” noting that she always dressed fashionably. She said she loved her nieces and nephews and had a fondness for cooking and baking. Dana’s cream puffs and cupcakes were a hit among her cheerleaders, Maria noted, and she also had a passion for traveling.
Maria said her family was pleased to be able to carry on Dana’s memory through scholarships for students and fundraisers for Camp Anchor. “It makes us proud that we can do something for her,” she said. “She was always there for the underdog and she always had a heart for people with special needs, so to be able to do something in her memory takes away a little bit of the pain and makes us happy that we can do something.”