The Spirit of Huntington staff is specially qualified to nurture and embrace children with special needs. Every one of our teachers either has special needs themselves or has a child with special needs. We love and support all of our students unconditionally and strive to create an atmosphere where children are celebrated and embraced not DESPITE who they are, but BECAUSE of who they are. We learn beautiful lessons in love, community and life each and every day from our treasured students.
Erich J. Preis, founder
Erich Preis is a successful artist from Long Island, NY and has exhibited in galleries. He has sold over
80 pieces of art, and is collected privately, nationally and internationally. Erich is known as “the artist for our U.S. Veterans”. For the past eight years, he has helped to raise thousands of dollars in raffles and auctions, through his art, for our homeless veterans and veterans who need assistance. This charitable work started after Erich had lost his friend and F.I.T. college roommate, also a fellow artist, in the Pentagon on 9/11. The veteran outreach is done in his friend’s memory.
Despite growing up with learning disabilities, on the autism spectrum, Erich has successfully graduated from two colleges, Fashion Institute of Technology and C.W. Post. He is a NY State Certified Art Teacher (K-12), and was awarded a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he received a certificate and won an award for his drawing skills.
Erich has taught art in the Bronx public schools, to students in gangs, through the N.Y.C. Board of Education, utilizing art therapy. He has worked with Helen Keller Services for the Blind, United Cerebral Palsy of Suffolk County and various nursing home facilities, using art therapy.
Erich enjoys motivational speaking, where he describes how he overcame his adversities to become successful. He offers seminars to schools, corporations and the interfaith community, where he teaches adults and parents of children with varying disabilities, techniques to help children reach their highest potential in art and in life.
Erich strives to be an inspiration to all artists, but especially to those who are affected by Autism, which is now one in 80 boys on Long Island. He, along with others, has begun teaching art classes to children on the Autism Spectrum at the newly formed Spirit of Huntington Art Center. He has attracted several renowned artists and sculptors who have begun teaching art classes that appeal to the entire community.
Jeff Webb, drawing/painting instructor
Jeff Webb P.S.A., is a very successful artist from Long Island, N.Y. He has sold hundreds of paintings, and his artwork is exhibited in museums and art galleries across America. As far as education, Jeff earned a Master of Arts Degree at C.W. Post, a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree at Pratt Institute, and studied privately with many other famous and successful artists. He won over 16 awards for his artwork, and has been featured in several art magazines and publications.
Jeff has been an artist for as long as he can remember, and his passion for art is still growing. He enjoys doing art, as well as introducing people to the world of visual art, whether it be through his own paintings or in a classroom with art students.
Jeff’s mission is to teach art to people who wish to do art. He works directly with his students and uses materials such as oil paints, pastels, and watercolors. He is very well known for doing portraiture, a style of art that focuses directly on artistic representation of people. He now teaches portraiture at the Spirit of Huntington Art Center. Jeff says he works “only from life” when he does art, and has a representational style.
Leonard Totoro, sculpture instructor
Leonard is a renowned sculptor from Long Island. He has been working in stone, metal, wood and multi-media for most of his life. Progressing from wooden objects found on his travels throughout the country to bronze castings by commission, his work today can be found in galleries across the United States, Canada and Europe. L.T’s study and apprenticeship has enabled him to expand his vision and scope to encompass both contemporary sculpture as well as outdoor collection pieces. His editions are kept low to preserve the integrity and quality of each piece.
Leonard has been expressing his vision of form for over 20 years. He studied under Miro Zupancic from 1981-1984. Private study with the Slovene artist emphasized his development of abstract and representational forms. His works in bronze, stone and wood are represented at galleries internationally and are widely held in private collections.
Leonard is most renowned for his ability to breathe a gamut of emotions into the medium and for the subsequent impact on the living environment, bringing fluidity and substance together into graceful, lyrical forms. L.T. has given substance to his vision through a variety of mediums. His work epitomizes the progression of life cycles through the unleashing of energy and the capture of form. His abstract works contain a sense of duality and depth that mirrors the perceptions of human nature that we possess.
Michael Kitakis, executive director/teacher
Michael Kitakis is one of our best loved teachers because he has the heart of a kid. A very spirited, creative and loving young kid! Michael’s day job as CEO of New Media Marketing helps us incorporate beauty and style into our materials and websites, but he is now blossoming as a talented and innovative teacher. He studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and has carried a love for art creating throughout his career.
He has been the driving force behind the launch of the Spirit of Huntington Art Center. It’s his passion for art and his love of the children that fuel the hearts of the teachers and students. Michael is involved in many community activities and fundraising events as a business owner as well as a father.
It is this involvement coupled with his amazing artistic ability and knowledge that help us create an atmosphere of love, acceptance, celebration and encouragement to our art studio. He sees the talents in the children and knows how to engage them to do their best work. He has a unique ability to weave the instructional parts in with the fun creative side to provide the students with a well-rounded artistic experience.
Diane Young, teacher
Diane Young is a certified Early Childhood educator currently teaching and developing a unique kindergarten program at Noah’s Ark Nursery School in Centerport. She is also teaching music programs to children aged 1-5 years at the Harborfields Public Library and weekly at classes to children with special needs at the Huntington YMCA. She is a community leader with several Harborfields PTA units and teaches 6th grade catechism at both St. Francis and OLQM.
Diane is a strong advocate for children as well as a Parent Member on the Harborfields Committee on Special Education. She continually studies and practices mindful education and enrichment and is blessed to be able to share her joy with the children. Diane genuinely loves children and brings a warmth and enthusiasm to her classes that truly radiates from her heart.
Bob Schmitz, artist/teacher
Bob Schmitz grew up in New York. His father was a commercial artist whose influence strongly motivated Bob to pursue art as a career. This career, however, did not begin until later in life. Bob’s love of art and the development of his present style, transformed over many years while he was running one of his other business ventures. Bob has now put his other business activities aside to do what he loves to do the most—paint and sculpt.
Bob’s love for scuba diving and the exotic colors of the beautiful coral reefs of the tropical islands strongly influence his art. Many of his original works were scenes of coral reefs and tropical islands. Even today, his modern impressionistic and abstract works are influenced by the reefs and the bright colors that are found there.
Bob’s earlier works were more realistic in style The evoloution to the abstract has placed his art on another level, where creativity comes through him and is expressed with numerous mediums onto the surface of the canvas. Texture, feeling color, shape, all come from the feelings that the artist is expressing at the moment.
Our Support Team
Cathy Kitakis, teaching assistant
Cathy Kitakis is a CPR and CPI Certified Teaching Assistant at Variety Child Learning Center in Syosset. This is her third year teaching in a 3 and 4 year old class for special needs children. Cathy has a love for teaching with a special insight into the hearts of children with challenges. She is an avid yoga student who brings her calm, centered presence to our classes which greatly lightens the atmosphere of the class. Cathy has also taught catechism for 5 years and volunteers her time not only to the Art Center but to many community causes, most notably Harborfields Special Education PTA where she served on the board for many years and chaired many large scale fundraising events. These fundraisers raised much needed dollars to support the needs of special education students throughout Harborfields.
Marina DiDomenico, nurse/teaching assistant
Marina DiDomenico has been working for many years as a Registered Nurse and is a tremendous asset to our center. We are incredibly blessed to have Marina on staff to care for our children (as well as our parents and teachers!) Not only does she take care of their physical needs, but nurtures and supports the children as well with her knowledge and understanding of special needs. She teaches catechism to 6th graders at OLQM and is also a tremendous asset to Harborfields SEPTA where she still sits on the board as one of their most successful fundraisers. Marina is also a student at the Spirit of Huntington. She has taken portraiture classes with Jeff Webb and has been incredibly motivated to create in her sculpture class as both as talented student and model. She is truly finding her voice as an artist at the Spirit of Huntington Art Center.
We are thrilled to have Angela Williams-Jones, a Certified RYT-200 Yoga Instructor, lead our children in a creative visualization and relaxation exercise to start our classes. Angela has a unique and effective way of working with our students to find a connection between their body and mind, which inspires and sparks their creativity. Angela has been sharing her transformation, compassion, energetic spirit and enthusiasm with everyone through the practice of yoga. Angela is also a Certified Zumba Instructor, Certified Reiki Master/Trainer and teaches youth and adult classes for tweens, teens, children with special needs, prenatal, chair, beginners, all levels through advanced students throughout Long Island.
Lea Quint – Teacher