Though Dana Costanzo, a teacher in Elmont and a Lynbrook resident who was beloved by students and faculty, died of complications of juvenile diabetes at age 37 last Dec. 4, her name will live on, thanks to her family's generosity.
Costanzo was a teaching assistant at Elmont Memorial High School for 10 years, working in the Promoting Academics though Life Skills program and coaching the varsity cheerleading squad, according to her mother, Maria Costanzo.
"Those girls were her pride and joy," Maria said. "She gave her all to both positions. She expected a lot but gave a lot." Dana also worked as a hostess at McQuades, in Lynbrook, on weekends, and the staff there became something of an extended family for her.
In her memory, her family and friends raised close to $8,000, which was donated to the Camp Anchor program. Camp ANCHOR - Answering the Needs of Citizens with Handicaps through Organized Recreation - is a year-round recreation program operated by the Town of Hempstead's Department of Parks & Recreation. The program focuses on children and adults with special needs.
With the hope of eventually creating a foundation in her name, the Costanzo family presented the first $500 Dana Costanzo Memorial Scholarship to Adriana Bakas, a 2017 Elmont High School graduate, at a school-wide scholarship presentation at the Elmont Memorial Public Library on June 1.
Maria Costanzo said that Bakas was a good student who worked hard. "She showed kindness to others," she said. "She was a cheerleader and one of Dana's favorites. She's a beautiful young woman, and she had a little sass."
"I was so excited, and couldn't believe it," Bakas said, adding, of Costanzo, "She was one of my favorites, and I miss her so much. Cheerleading with her was the best, because she was so much fun. I'm so thankful."
Another way Dana chose to give back was through organ donation, her mother said. "We were able to follow Dana's wishes and donate her corneas and her skin," Maria said. "She was always trying to convince others of the importance of donating their organs."
Throughout her life, Dana tried hard not to let her limitations defeat her, her mother said. "She was a very strong person who suffered for about 20 years, but she wouldn't let people know when it got her down," Maria said. "She put on a smile and headed off to work."
She worked for about 10 summers at Camp Anchor in Lido Beach, first as a volunteer, then as a lifeguard. Dana was a "very smart young woman," Maria Costanzo said. "Her heart was always with the special-needs population."After graduating from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania with a degree in human services, Dana earned a master's in health administration from Hofstra University. Then, after beginning her career, she went back to school, this time at St. Johns University, where she earned a master's with honors in special education.
Outside the classroom, one of her passions was shopping. "She was a total fashionista - she was the family stylist," her mother recalled. "Starting with her 4-year-old niece, to me. She was a bargain hunter but always looked perfect. Never stepped out the door unless she was dressed and had on full makeup."
The youngest of four sisters who were all extremely close, Dana was devoted to her family, doting on her nieces and nephews. "She attended all their events, took them places, and was always buying them little gifts," Maria Costanzo said. "Aunt 'Dede' held a special place in their hearts."
"Our favorite memories of Dana will be the holidays, when she decorated the house," her sister Jenna Murray said.
"As modern and trendy as Dana was in her style, she was also traditional at heart," Murray added. "When she baked, her special apple pie and stuffed mushrooms - the recipes our grandmothers passed down to us - were amazing."
Dana's mother described her as someone who shined both on the inside and the outside. "She also loved reading all different types of books, surfing the internet, all types of social media," Maria said. "Her friends and family loved her Facebook and Instagram pages for her sharp, witty postings."
Those close to her said that Dana would be remembered by everyone whose lives she touched.
"I think people will remember Dana for her quick wit, intelligence, her sense of style, her love of family and her kindness to people less fortunate," Maria Costanzo said.