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.
Larry Burlingame c.p.a
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.
Mark Wittenberg, RA, PC
Mark Wittenberg is a generous and kind soul whose “Can Do” attitude is a consistently positive gift to the community. As a licensed architect with an active practice in Huntington, Mark’s creative and talented hand has shaped many local and regional landscapes.
Mark serves the Spirit of Huntington Art Center as both a member of the Board of Directors and as a teacher. In addition to being assistant teacher for our weekly sculpture class, Mark teaches many of our Friday night “Artists Come Alive” classes, and is the head of our Sunday program at the YJCC. He is also an essential team member when it comes to our summer camp programs. Mark’s practical knowledge of “How things work” further serves all SOH events, classes and even building operations.
Mark’s foray into art as an adult began with taking many different types of classes within the local community. Among them were painting, drawing and photography. He eventually found a home at the Spirit of Huntington Art Center in a sculpture class led by the late L.T. Cherokee who became both a friend and mentor to Mark. He took to sculpture in a very permanent way and is now an Assistant Teacher in the program. His work is both uniquely creative and carefully engineered.
Scott Goldfinger, Esq.
Our Support Team
Ileana Perez-Castillo, L.M.S.W.
Ileana has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Puerto Rico with the expertise in families and children. Born and raised in “The Bronx”, Ileana moved to Puerto Rico at the age of 10 and there she learned her second language of Spanish and the experience of adjusting as a Newyorican. After graduating from her Master’s, her internship with the New York Foundling Hospital at their Head Start Program in one of the shanty towns in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she had the opportunity to return to her New York roots as a Foster Care Caseworker for the NYFH in New York City. From there, Ileana moved to be an Infant and Maternal Care Social Worker and later a Clinical Resource Manager at the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn. In this setting, she practiced as a Social Work Field Instructor after completing a program and seminar at Hunter College and Columbia University. Faith made her a Long Islander and the necessity to work at the Interdisciplinary Center for Child Development at Bayside, Queens with pre-school special needs children providing Social Work History, Assessments, and IEP’s for CSE and CPSE placements as well as Integrated Therapy and ABA. Ileana completed 12 Graduate Credits in Bilingual Education from Queens College towards her Bilingual School Social Worker Certificate from the State of New York Education Department. Having worked as an independent consultant for the Training Center for Early Childhood Professionals in Levittown, at present, Ileana is a Bilingual Professional Development Specialist for the Council for the Professional Recognition, National Credentialing Program from Washington, DC. This role requires an on line completion of an instrument that measures the competency areas that a CDA candidate requires to understand and practice as future early childhood educators via observation in their work settings. Ileana has also volunteered in the past at her children’s pre-school at her church, St. Paul The Apostle in Brookville, in which she has also been a Religious Educator and continuous to conduct the Altar Servers’ Ministry. Within the Jericho School District, she has been an active member in the PTA and PTSA. While training and becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher through the Yoga Alliance, Karma brought Ileana to the Spirit of Huntington Art Center. Her 11 and 12-year-old daughters are part of the art classes year around and Ileana has been volunteering as a Teacher Assistant and she has been able to find her “own home” with her love of art and children.
Theresa Banks, Yoga Instructor
Theresa Banks began her yoga practice in 2003 on Long Island, New York. Her travels have brought her to study with a variety of Yoga Teachers. With a love for the healing arts, Theresa was guided to become an Integrated Energy Therapy Master Instructor as well as being certified in Reiki I and II. This combination has rounded and deepened her learning experience. Theresa is a 500 hour graduate of the Yoga Teacher Training Institute in Queens, NY, a certified YogaKids Teacher and holds an International KRI certification in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. Theresa’s devotion for yoga expands with every moment. Her yoga practice and teaching benefit from her love of music, creative spirit and connection to Mother Earth. She is blessed to be a vehicle for the healing energy and the teachings. She fills her classes with love, light and commitment. She is honored to share these amazing ancient teachings with the community and to guide people to reach their fullest potential and inner light.
Paul Bryan, Art Teacher
Paul made a career in Fine Arts education. After completing his BA in Stony Brook University and his Masters at Hofstra University he began teaching in both private and public schools. H taught art for 37 years. He became the District Art Chairperson in the West Babylon school district during his last 8 years of his career in education. While heading the department he taught AP Art History and AP Studio in Art along with Advanced Drawing and Painting classes.
Since the 1970’s he has been spending time on the shores of Lake Champlain during his summer vacations. In 2006 he decided to plan for his retirement and settled part time in Chazy Landing, NY. Paul retired in 2012 and is now able to work by the lake during all four seasons. He says, “It is the serenity of the area and the ability to really become one with nature that inspires me to try and capture my experiences through my art.”
Vito Cannella, Sculpture Instructor
Vito is a Huntington native who has been a NYC-based multimedia artist since 1983. After working professionally for many years as a freelance artist and on staff at the Museum of Natural History, Vito has returned home to Huntington and is excited to be sharing his expertise with our community. Come visit the art center to have fun and work with the master!
Con Artist, Tango Instructor
Con Artist, Born Constance, decided to give herself a name the way people chose their names throughout history… according to her profession. She is not a con; she is an artist and a trained Argentine Tango dancer, teacher and choreographer who loves to perform. She is also a painter and sculptor of diverse imagery. Con has worked at Atria Assisted Living in Huntington doing art and entertainment with the seniors. She has organized several workshops in painting and sculpture for physically and mentally challenged adults and children through the town of Islip. In addition, Con has also worked as artist-in-residence for East Islip School District and she was also a costumer and puppet maker for Chazzam Entertainment. Con earned a BS Degree in Fine Art at Stonybrook University.
Cathy Kitakis, Teaching Assistant
Cathy Kitakis is a level 3 CPR and CPI Certified Teaching Assistant at Variety Child Learning Center in Syosset. This is her sixth 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.
Elizabeth Madden, Teacher
Elizabeth Madden majored in fine art and art history at SUNY Stony Brook. She currently works in special education, and has since 1993. Liz uses her art background to inspire students with disabilities to develop their creative skills. She is a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance and teaches yoga weekly.
Lea Quint, Teacher
Erica Schlitz, Coordinator/Art Therapy Graduate Student
Erica is an energetic, free-spirited person who is passionate about people and the arts. Her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Hofstra University, combined with her current enrollment in LIU Post’s Art Therapy & Counseling Masters Program, helps in providing a unique, intimate experience for the students of the Spirit of Huntington Art Center. She also runs groups with the veterans at the VA in Northport, and teaches after school art programs at Noah’s Ark Nursery School, and the Harborfields Public Library, through the Spirit of Huntington, with Diane Young. Erica will finish up graduate school in the spring of 2016 and is looking forward to practicing in the community as a licensed Art Therapist.
Bob Schmitz, Artist
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.
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.