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Fundraiser recalls LI teen who died of heroin overdose

A photo of Natalie Ciappa is seen at

A photo of Natalie Ciappa is seen at the "Not my Child" benefit, Sunday. Ciappa died of a heroin overdose in 2008.(March 28, 2010) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Had a heroin overdose not taken her life, Natalie Ciappa would have turned 20 earlier this month and perhaps be in college studying to become a criminal profiler, a goal she'd discussed with her mother.

Instead, as the second anniversary of her death nears, a fundraiser was held at Mulcahy's Pub in Wantagh Sunday night in remembrance of the Massapequa teen, who has become the face of the youth heroin epidemic on Long Island.

Money raised will extend treatment for addicts at Samaritan Village, a Queens-based organization that takes patients regardless of their ability to pay. It's where Natalie's parents say they would have sent her, if they'd had the chance.

"If we can keep people in treatment one day longer, that may be the day they turn the corner," said Ted Hernitche, the group's vice president for compliance and evaluation, who was at the event.

The first fundraiser was held last year during a snowstorm and roughly $8,000 was raised, said Victor Ciappa, 50, Natalie's father. With the tamer weather and more planning going into this year's event, Ciappa said he expected that total to be eclipsed.

There was a cover charge of $25. Local businesses donated money and items for raffle. A flat screen television, laptop computer, Knicks and Rangers jerseys, and a guitar signed by members of Twisted Sister were among the prizes.

Natalie was a rock and roll fan, and five local bands were on the bill, including Victor Ciappa's group, Tormented By Flies.

It has not always been easy sharing her daughter's story with the public, said Doreen Ciappa, Natalie's mother, during a break from greeting attendees.

But it gives purpose to Natalie's life, she said, and helps with her own grief.

"When I do things like this," said Doreen Ciappa, 51, "I feel that she's looking down, going 'Right on.' "

The Ciappa family plans to make the fundraiser an annual event.

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