new arts center
The reinvigorated arts center will be called Rise in Spirit Community Arts Center. (Photo by Briana Bonfiglio)

Two nonprofit organizations in Suffolk County – RISE Life Services and The Spirit of Huntington – have banded together to offer expanded services for veterans and people with special needs at the former South Huntington Public Library.

For the past eight years, The Spirit of Huntington has leased the building at 2 Melville Rd. from South Huntington School District for its arts programs. Now, in partnership with RISE Life Services, they will purchase the 24,000 square-foot facility and create new opportunities for individuals in the community. The reinvigorated arts center will be called Rise in Spirit Community Arts Center.

“Picture: Art, dance, music, mental health programs, an adult program – there’s going to be a variety of services provided under one roof,” said Charles Evdos, executive director of RISE Life Services, during a news conference celebrating the new center inside the facility, adding that the expansion of services will create 52 new jobs.

Charles Evdos, executive director of RISE Life Services, left, and Michael Kitakis, executive director of Spirit of Huntington Art Center. (Photo by Briana Bonfiglio)

Michael Kitakis, executive director of Spirit of Huntington Art Center, explained that Rise in Spirit will have three components: recreational, educational, and vocational services, stressing that the programs are all-inclusive – for people of all ages and abilities.

The recreational programs include yoga and dance activities on the first floor. North Shore Dance, a nonprofit organization that offers dance and movement classes to diverse populations, and also welcomes all abilities and ages, has its studio in the building.

The educational programs center around music and art, which The Spirit of Huntington has held in the building for several years – evident by the dozens of pieces of vibrant artwork already lining the walls of the facility. The vocational services will then take what students learn about drawing and painting and apply it to occupations in digital arts through a program called ArtWORKS.

A student at The Spirit of Huntington shows off her artwork. (Photo by Briana Bonfiglio)

“We’ve been able to take a model of a program that’s been taught at a college level and teach them that there’s opportunities to actually make their dreams come true and get a job,” Kitakis said. “That whole vocational side is going to be amazing.”

RISE Life Services, which will operate on the second floor, will assist in the vocational training and other services that will fully open around Jan. 15, Evdos said.

The arts center will also expand its programming for veterans. Currently, The Spirit of Huntington offers virtual arts programs for veterans staying at Northport VA Medical.

The facility is located at 2 Melville Rd. in South Huntington. (Photo by Briana Bonfiglio)

“We’re excited about the conversations that have been happening about how this facility can be utilized to serve those who served us,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “When they come home, it is our obligation to serve them and make sure they have what they need to be able to come back into the community and be able to thrive for the rest of their lives.”

Leaders of Rise in Spirit said their goal is to continue expanding its offerings and to serve as a community-based model that nonprofits across the state and country can adapt as their own to help more veterans and people with special needs.

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