The Spirit of Huntington Art Center is alive and well, offering different programs and summer classes for children and young adults with special needs.
It all started nine years ago when Huntington resident and artist Erich Preis decided to make a dream that he and his late friend, Michael Noeth (who was killed at the Pentagon on 9/11), had always discussed come true. That dream was to open up an art school.
“Erich is young man who overcame a lot of his disabilities through art,” Michael Kitakis, executive director of Spirit of Huntington, said. “We started Spirit at the old gas station in Huntington on 25A and Park – it was literally three kids and his dream of having a school to work with people who have special needs and veterans.”
Starting with three kids in 2011, Spirit now offers classes, courses and programs to over 150 students a week, as well as the Northport Veterans Association. As it started to grow, the board and its volunteers realized they needed more space. Five years ago, they worked out a deal with the South Huntington school district, taking over the old library on Melville Road in Huntington Station in exchange for programs at their schools.
“We do believe that when you give kids an opportunity for creative expression, it does transform lives… we see it everyday,” Kitakis said.
Focusing on children and young adults with disabilities, Spirit has several programs available, sure to fit plenty of interests during the summer.
This past week, Spirit finished up its Game Design classes that ran from July 22-26. In it, a small group of students, ranging in age and ability, worked on creating their own video games.
Brian Doscher, a 22-year-old student from Deer Park, signed up for the class because he always loved art and creating. When he got to Spirit, he realized he was the oldest student in the class and well above the skill level that the other kids had.
That’s when the course teacher, Patrick Aievoli, stepped in and accommodated the student with a professional and highly popular video game development service called Unity.
“I’m learning how to create videos,” Doscher said, “and I’m learning more professional skills.”
Aievoli, a professor at Long Island University is summer teaching at Spirit to help these kids gain the confidence and skill sets that will help them be creative.
“It’s great what they’re doing for the community,” he said. “It’s showing the spirit of Huntington… we’re neighbors helping neighbors… people helping people.”
Along with the gaming camp, Spirit is offering two other summer courses for special needs students, varying in age and skill. Starting Aug. 19-23, there will be two sessions at the art center (ages 10-13 and ages 14 and up) for a Comic Book Club and its Artists Come Alive.
Kitakis said that during the Artists Come Alive sessions (which also has two sessions: ages 4-12 at Noah’s Ark Nursery School in Centerport and for ages 14+ at the center) students take an artist and learn about who they are through slideshows, handouts and stories. Then they work on art that is similar to that artist. At the end of the week, students can show off their pieces in an art show for family and friends.
“We try to incorporate what that artist has overcome in his or her life with their art and how it helped,” he said. Artists Come Alive will begin on Aug. 26-30.
“I think the best thing about camp is that it lets you get a little deeper into the art,” Kitakis said. “It gives you a little more time to explore… With comic book art, you’re actually developing a character, a story, you’re learning how to write… it’s more than you can do in an hour-long class.”
Spirit is fully staffed to work with children and young adults who have special needs and who may need a lot of support. “We’re well staffed to handle and work with that, which is unusual on Long Island,” he said.
Spots are still open for the two remaining summer programs. Comic book camp is $200, while Artists Come Alive is $250, both for five days and includes supplies and a healthy snack. Those interested can enroll online.