The Spirit of Huntington Arts Center is a nonprofit organization with a focus on serving 2 specific communities individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities(IDD) and veterans. They serve these communities through educational art classes and their unique ArtWorks program. ArtWorks is a program that provides technical training to prepare students for a career in digital arts.
Tommy D will lead us through a conversation with The Executive Director of the Spirit of Huntington, Michael Kitakis. As always, we will learn about the history of the organization, a deep dive into the programs, and the future of Spirit of Huntington.
Tommy welcomes his guest, Michael Kitakis. Michael is the founder of The Executive Director of the Spirit of Huntington Arts. Michael goes on to talk about his background in marketing and how Spirit of Huntington Arts got started.
Michael continues his story about the founding of his non-profit/ He asked his friend, Eric, to paint a mural over some graffiti on one of his buildings. Michael emphasizes the importance of “going back to your roots”. Michael has always had a passion for art. Michael and Eric started teaching art classes to three students in a garage. Michael and Tommy talk about Michael’s work with Special Education PTA. Michael says, “It’s not always about the art. It is about the process”.
Michael tells a story about how one of his students inspired him to add digital art to the curriculum in his art class. ArtWorks is a class Michael added that shows students how to secure a career in the art field. Michael talks about how he values the work other non-profits do and why most of his clients are non-profits. Michael’s programs provide people with a purpose and a sense of belonging. Michael plugs his website, www.spiritofhuntington.com Tommy mentions his socials and closes the show.
00:00:30.420 --> 00:00:33.420 Tommy D: Tommy. Do you know where I am coming on top of my house.
00:00:33.900 --> 00:00:42.990 Tommy D: That's right. The attic today. I got a great friend of mine. I'm super excited to have Michael Cuttack is Michael jumping in the conversation. And second, but I just want to say what I like to say the beginning of the show is
00:00:43.530 --> 00:00:54.090 Tommy D: Welcome to the show. So here we go. Many of you know me. You're aware of me. You're aware of my passion. My concern my interest, my, my goal to amplify the message of the nonprofit sector and, specifically,
00:00:54.570 --> 00:01:05.310 Tommy D: Each week from 10am to 11am we're going a bit of a late start this morning, but typically from 10am to 11am we go live here on talk radio dot NYC and also on facebook live
00:01:05.910 --> 00:01:15.990 Tommy D: I'm ridiculously passionate about getting the message out on on organizations and each week I bring on a leader of an organization. It might be the founder and it might be the executive director, it might be one in the same.
00:01:16.470 --> 00:01:22.920 Tommy D: We'll talk about their challenges what they've had to come through the goals. The ambition of the organization, the history, the organization.
00:01:23.250 --> 00:01:33.630 Tommy D: The programs and where they're going. So what we're going to do is, today I'd like to introduce my friend. It's funny how things happen in life. Michael and I, by the way, Michael I let my hair down because I knew you
00:01:33.660 --> 00:01:34.890 Tommy D: Haven't figured
00:01:36.120 --> 00:01:45.930 Tommy D: Out a little rubber man and stuff. But, you know, you only listening you know Tommy's hair down today and Michael and I got the long hair going. So, um, I figured if I put the tie on and still looks like I'm a
00:01:45.930 --> 00:01:47.250 Michael Kitakis: Profit look more professional.
00:01:47.670 --> 00:01:53.400 Tommy D: Right. So what so Michael and I met because we have a family foundation and memory of my cousin and
00:01:54.060 --> 00:01:58.290 Tommy D: I call them one day and said we don't know each other, but I have a check for you. And that's always a way to get a new friend.
00:01:58.620 --> 00:02:02.880 Tommy D: I found out in life is if you say you have a check for somebody they welcome you into their life pretty quickly.
00:02:03.270 --> 00:02:07.110 Tommy D: So Michael Cuttack is my body spirit of Huntington Art Center, you know, look.
00:02:07.350 --> 00:02:16.710 Tommy D: Tell. I just want to hear the story I we're going to talk about you know the history of the organization will do the best we can to get into some depth and programming, we may have to come on baby, come back.
00:02:17.010 --> 00:02:24.630 Tommy D: But let's talk about the history and how first who's Michael attack is and how do you end up involved with an organization like this. Well,
00:02:24.660 --> 00:02:31.560 Michael Kitakis: Thank you, Tommy, for having me on. You know, it's funny, you don't know why you're in an organization like you are
00:02:31.890 --> 00:02:40.140 Michael Kitakis: Sometimes you does end up in a situation that's just amazing. And that's really what happened here is that we ended up into an organization that was
00:02:40.560 --> 00:02:50.730 Michael Kitakis: Not really. What was planned. I was in marketing and advertising all my life ran a huge firm out in hop off at a big building in
00:02:51.420 --> 00:03:02.070 Michael Kitakis: You know how Park District over there. We had 23 employees three partners and huge amount of success, and I couldn't have been more unhappier in my life, you know, it's those times when
00:03:03.030 --> 00:03:03.210 You
00:03:05.520 --> 00:03:06.900 Tommy D: Get your
00:03:06.960 --> 00:03:10.080 Tommy D: Amount of success and you couldn't have been unhappier you said
00:03:10.380 --> 00:03:18.420 Michael Kitakis: It was it was some of the worst times of my life. Yeah. And when you look back on it, you're, you're striving so much to get to that goal. And when I got to those goals.
00:03:18.960 --> 00:03:28.560 Michael Kitakis: And we had the success that we had, you know, we were doing four or $5 million a year and advertising and marketing and fortune 500 companies and in the city and back and forth. It just was
00:03:29.220 --> 00:03:37.710 Michael Kitakis: You know, very unfulfilling and and as I father. I got in there. And the more stuff I bought and the boats and all the stuff that I had in my life.
00:03:38.070 --> 00:03:45.390 Michael Kitakis: None of that was bringing that fulfillment. And I think, you know, we all go through those defining moments we were talking about earlier, you know, Tommy, but
00:03:45.720 --> 00:03:56.760 Michael Kitakis: The defining moment for me personally, and how I got into the world of special needs, and I don't talk about this a lot. But, you know, I'll share it with you, only because we were, we hit upon it was
00:03:57.840 --> 00:04:20.010 Michael Kitakis: My son actually 21 years ago was born as a blue baby he got caught in the birth canal and you know came out non responsive and and you know the that traumatic time in my life when that happens, you cannot think of anything worse than your trial or not responding. You know, so
00:04:21.090 --> 00:04:30.180 Michael Kitakis: He made it through. He has developmental delays at the time he was diagnosed on the spectrum which you know we know is not the
00:04:30.840 --> 00:04:39.930 Michael Kitakis: correct terminology anymore. But, I'm, you know, going through that experience of those those very difficult days turned out to be the most
00:04:40.290 --> 00:04:47.940 Michael Kitakis: beautiful thing. And my wife and I, you know, I never give him a lot of credit for all of that. But if it really wasn't for Michael. It's also a Michael
00:04:48.420 --> 00:05:04.020 Michael Kitakis: If it really wasn't for Michael I'm we wouldn't be affecting thousands of students and people today. So we were talking about earlier, it is that butterfly effect. It's that one thing that happens that changes your destiny and I think
00:05:04.800 --> 00:05:07.440 Michael Kitakis: You know him, you know, pushing us into
00:05:07.800 --> 00:05:21.720 Michael Kitakis: septa pushing us into parent organization me owning an advertising agency and dog. Why are you doing an event like that. I'll never forget it. My wife was the vice president and it was a small school district out here in Long Island orbit fields and
00:05:22.230 --> 00:05:26.790 Michael Kitakis: She was the VP. And she's like, you know, we're going to do a little event for fundraising and
00:05:27.210 --> 00:05:34.740 Michael Kitakis: I'm sick all great, you know, what do you guys do is just what we do all of this work and we make about 20 $500 and I'm like what you make 2500
00:05:35.430 --> 00:05:48.750 Michael Kitakis: I'm like, Let's go after a little bit bigger of a picture. You know, so we did the marketing, we get the sponsorship kids. We did brochures, we got the whole thing make a long story short, they pulled in about 50 grand at that event and
00:05:49.650 --> 00:05:50.730 Tommy D: 2500 bucks.
00:05:50.850 --> 00:06:13.770 Michael Kitakis: Yeah, yeah. So that's when I started to then get that second you know epiphany of, you know, what marketing and advertising done in the right purposeful way can make a huge difference as well. So at that event I met Eric and Eric price was. It was a local artist who lived in Huntington
00:06:15.210 --> 00:06:27.000 Michael Kitakis: He was a he was a graduate from Harvard field. So he's alone and I met him, he was selling and auctioning a painting. We did an auction that time and Eric's like what do you do next. I like advertising, marketing and
00:06:27.480 --> 00:06:33.780 Michael Kitakis: And I said, You know, you're really beautiful work here. He said, You should come down and see what I'm doing at this building. I'm doing them euro in Huntington
00:06:34.320 --> 00:06:45.510 Michael Kitakis: At the corner of 25 am park there was a little gas station and I've got a little gas station Eric was doing a painting a mural because it kept getting tagged and I'm like, Sure, I'll start down
00:06:46.440 --> 00:06:50.400 Tommy D: We're gonna go to break in a minute. So I want to come back to the story, but it kept getting tagged meaning.
00:06:50.550 --> 00:06:52.890 Michael Kitakis: Graffiti they would just really. Yep. It was getting graffiti.
00:06:53.280 --> 00:06:58.650 Tommy D: Gas station and they would just cut out, you know, putting graffiti all over and he would go over and kind of cleaned it up with this mural.
00:06:58.800 --> 00:07:03.600 Michael Kitakis: Yep, the owner said why don't you go pay them you're on it and they won't do that. And that's exactly what he did.
00:07:03.900 --> 00:07:06.600 Tommy D: Alright, so hold that thought because I don't want to get deep into the story, which
00:07:06.600 --> 00:07:06.840 Michael Kitakis: I
00:07:07.020 --> 00:07:07.920 Michael Kitakis: Read this. Very good. Good.
00:07:09.330 --> 00:07:18.960 Tommy D: We got suspenseful. We're gonna keep them they're listening, they're not going anywhere. Michael where you go to a quick break. Tommy in the attic with my friend Michael guitar spirit on it and we'll be right back in two minutes or
00:09:34.770 --> 00:09:39.060 Tommy D: Friday. That's my uncle, Brandon, Michael, you know, Brendan levy my buddy queens.
00:09:39.060 --> 00:09:39.360 Here.
00:09:41.310 --> 00:09:49.050 Tommy D: I don't know if you know the story behind that they have a band back in the day, called the goods and as I got older and they wanted to keep performing they call themselves damaged goods right now.
00:09:50.250 --> 00:09:52.620 Tommy D: So that's a little ditty from my uncle Brendan and damage. Good.
00:09:53.250 --> 00:09:53.880 Michael Kitakis: I like it.
00:09:54.270 --> 00:10:03.660 Tommy D: Cool. I'm so let's jump back into first I want to cover one quick thing septa s TA. So just for people who might not know special education PTA or parents each
00:10:03.660 --> 00:10:04.620 Michael Kitakis: Track or writer.
00:10:05.460 --> 00:10:19.950 Tommy D: That you're at this event that was going to be a 20 $500 you know ticket and it turned 50,000 right which talks about butterfly effect. Well, let's go back to talking about you meet Eric at this event you're doing the mural 25 eight guys. Let's go back to that story.
00:10:20.010 --> 00:10:29.430 Michael Kitakis: So you know when when I ran into him. He's like, You gotta go see what I'm doing on 25 day and I'm like, you know, busy. I'm running this giant marketing firm. I don't get no time for anything.
00:10:29.790 --> 00:10:35.400 Michael Kitakis: Again, feeling those unfulfilled moments, you know, but when I drove to work the next day.
00:10:35.850 --> 00:10:40.800 Michael Kitakis: I happened to go by that building. And there he is painting on the side of this building, you know, and I'm like,
00:10:41.160 --> 00:10:51.510 Michael Kitakis: Son of a gun and let me pull in and say hi, you know, or it's like I'm late. I got coffee. I'm in my suit. I gotta get running, you know, but I do the proverbial stop. I walk up these. Okay.
00:10:52.320 --> 00:10:58.770 Michael Kitakis: Cool, what do you tell me, show me the mirror, and then he opens up the door that this little dingy old garage and says, My
00:10:59.430 --> 00:11:06.210 Michael Kitakis: My dream is to open up an art school and teach classes here and I walk into this place. There's no electric no lights.
00:11:06.480 --> 00:11:15.480 Michael Kitakis: The fixtures are hanging down in the middle of the room. There's the giant hole for the pit where the cars go down into it looks like a bomb went off dude.
00:11:15.840 --> 00:11:23.670 Michael Kitakis: And I literally just looked in there and I shut the door. I went. All right. Good luck. ERIC Yeah, it looks good. I'll see you soon. You know, and I left and
00:11:24.570 --> 00:11:32.550 Michael Kitakis: Next day I'm driving by, I see that son of a gun out there. Dan and I blew by him. And then I had a really bad day. The following day at work.
00:11:33.480 --> 00:11:43.290 Michael Kitakis: And I, I happen to catch them on the way back. And I stopped in and literally in my, in my, you know, dress closing all he's like once pick up a brush.
00:11:43.920 --> 00:11:52.560 Michael Kitakis: I want. Yeah, I think I need to do that, you know, and again, my, my original passion. This is my theme this year and I want to share this with your, with your audience is.
00:11:52.890 --> 00:12:00.690 Michael Kitakis: Is roots. Getting back to those things that matter. Getting back to those roots in your life, getting to the things that gave you purpose in your life.
00:12:00.930 --> 00:12:07.440 Michael Kitakis: Whether it was for kids, whether it was helping out a family member or adults, old people drawing, painting.
00:12:07.710 --> 00:12:12.480 Michael Kitakis: That got to connect with those roots and in my my instance I was an artist always was an artist.
00:12:12.720 --> 00:12:23.130 Michael Kitakis: Gave that dream up to be a graphic designer gave a graphic designer dream up to be an account coordinator gave that up to be an owner and executive and run a firm, you know what, but I went back
00:12:23.550 --> 00:12:32.010 Michael Kitakis: I sat there, put that brush in my hands and I started painting a mural with that guy and I said you know what you can do this and you need some help here.
00:12:32.580 --> 00:12:42.390 Michael Kitakis: make a long story short, we got the lead trick on in about two weeks after that, my friend, Diane pay the electric bill and put some oil in the burner and we had heat
00:12:43.290 --> 00:12:54.210 Michael Kitakis: The bathrooms are outside, you had to walk outside to go through the restrooms. It was the real garage. You know what, and we had three students in that my son was one of those. He was about 10 years old.
00:12:55.230 --> 00:12:55.860 Michael Kitakis: And
00:12:56.880 --> 00:13:06.480 Michael Kitakis: Ironically, Tommy, and this is so funny is that it happened on the 10th of January 10 years ago that that class happened.
00:13:06.990 --> 00:13:15.210 Michael Kitakis: And that those three students sat in that cold garage with their jackets on Eric taught taught him a class about art and
00:13:15.960 --> 00:13:21.300 Michael Kitakis: Now here we are 10 years later, and there's 150 students coming through our program every single week so
00:13:21.870 --> 00:13:31.470 Michael Kitakis: You know, I can never say in a million years that sitting in that cold dingy, you know, was it was going to happen. And it really wasn't even about the art. It's never really about
00:13:32.130 --> 00:13:38.490 Michael Kitakis: I shouldn't say that me listen artist, beautiful, I love it. But our mission statement is that, you know,
00:13:39.090 --> 00:13:51.600 Michael Kitakis: Obviously we're nonprofit but believe we believe the creative expression can transform a life and it does. We see it every day with special needs and veterans. Those are two core constituencies that we go we focus on
00:13:52.020 --> 00:14:01.170 Michael Kitakis: And we do that by igniting a passion in their lives. You see, this is why the flame is our logo. This is why we are the spirit because we try to
00:14:01.500 --> 00:14:08.100 Michael Kitakis: Tap into that spirit tap into those roots happen to the things that are going to make a difference in someone's life and that's really what happened.
00:14:08.490 --> 00:14:20.940 Michael Kitakis: In that cold day and at the garage. Fast forward, what we did is we we stayed there for a couple years. And we found a new home at the old library and South Huntington
00:14:21.990 --> 00:14:35.850 Michael Kitakis: And ironically, getting back to the school district, getting back to septa which is always funny how that was at my little in my special education PTA we were able to talk to the owner was Eric
00:14:36.420 --> 00:14:42.480 Michael Kitakis: Eric had another vision that we were supposed to be in this giant old library. It was abandoned at the time for about seven years.
00:14:43.410 --> 00:14:44.910 Tommy D: 6000 square feet.
00:14:45.420 --> 00:14:46.680 Tommy D: He saw this he said we're going
00:14:46.710 --> 00:14:47.040 Michael Kitakis: To read
00:14:47.190 --> 00:14:59.190 Michael Kitakis: A lot and Eric price is I'm challenged with his own needs. He's overcome a lot of his special needs through art so he's always been our spokesperson, and our, you know, kind of our
00:14:59.670 --> 00:15:11.580 Michael Kitakis: Our inspiration, you know, because he his vision and he's got a whole nother story in life that I want to share one day, but his vision was to help out people as well. And he always wanted an art school him and his friend.
00:15:12.300 --> 00:15:16.530 Michael Kitakis: You know, got excited about doing an art school. In fact, he lost his friend and 911
00:15:17.760 --> 00:15:26.760 Michael Kitakis: At the Pentagon. He was only in New York at that died and that really was the inspiration for Eric to continue doing teaching and talk about those defining moments, but
00:15:27.390 --> 00:15:43.020 Michael Kitakis: He got excited about trying to teach and help others. And when Eric saw the building. He's like Mike we belong, man. I'm like Eric is 26,000 square feet were in a 500 600 foot garage, you know, where are we going with this dude.
00:15:44.040 --> 00:15:56.610 Michael Kitakis: Ironically, my firm started to collapse this that it was 2000, you know, and you know, nine. And those things are starting to happen and and things were unraveling. And that world.
00:15:57.300 --> 00:16:09.780 Michael Kitakis: You know, partners, breaking up. So you know we were looking to regroup. We got rid of the building at a short sale, the ugliness that goes on when companies break up and I took the firm.
00:16:10.590 --> 00:16:20.550 Michael Kitakis: And I asked the school district who owned the library. If we could come in and it's unheard of that they would partner up with a for public or a profit company.
00:16:21.690 --> 00:16:28.140 Michael Kitakis: But I said, Listen, I want to come upstairs from my advertising agency downstairs. We want to rent out for the charity.
00:16:28.500 --> 00:16:37.830 Michael Kitakis: Can we come in and be a part of it. And we had about six or seven board meetings with the Board of Ed, I had to go through everything. And, you know, really.
00:16:38.340 --> 00:16:46.470 Michael Kitakis: Meet with a ton of people to get us to even be in here. And I said, listen, why would there. We could teach a class one of the students in you know in your school
00:16:47.130 --> 00:16:54.570 Michael Kitakis: And he said, Okay, let's let's see if we can make this happen. And Dr. Bernardo. Who is the superintendent who's actually retiring. This year he
00:16:55.170 --> 00:17:04.260 Michael Kitakis: He agreed. And we started out with one class there. And then we went to two classes and it with the three classes and then we finally got to the special needs groups and to the
00:17:04.980 --> 00:17:16.740 Michael Kitakis: You know, to that that sector that we were going after in life and that became really, really powerful for us because we were able to really make a connection within the district, you know, I'm sorry, Tom.
00:17:19.050 --> 00:17:30.390 Michael Kitakis: We were able to make a connection with the district and make an account and it was our first big account, you know, with the organization because now we could work with organizations. We weren't just going
00:17:30.750 --> 00:17:35.790 Michael Kitakis: To, you know, two or three kids. Now we could get 20 in a classroom. Now we can get to 30 and 40
00:17:36.240 --> 00:17:41.550 Michael Kitakis: And slowly but surely we started to grow this thing and then we went to another organization to Northport VA.
00:17:41.970 --> 00:17:56.190 Michael Kitakis: And then we went to the y JC see Adler center and then we went to the YMCA. And then we started going to all these organizations and they were either coming to us or we were going to them and we were still teaching this great program called artists comes alive.
00:17:56.760 --> 00:17:57.660 Tommy D: What is that program about
00:17:58.080 --> 00:18:08.490 Michael Kitakis: So each week we studied different artists. So, you know, this week we're studying Monet, so we learned what Monet was all about what he or she overcame and hear his or her life and their challenges.
00:18:08.730 --> 00:18:23.100 Michael Kitakis: And then we learn a style of art and then we do a project in that style and it's great because their students learn a little bit about history they learn a little bit about art and went to a project ish it's it's Monet years. It isn't exact, you know, but
00:18:23.400 --> 00:18:24.690 Michael Kitakis: If you were
00:18:25.170 --> 00:18:37.560 Tommy D: To give them some history. We're going to learn about an artist. Right. Yeah. And then so so that's great. Right. So we learn something new. Right. Then we're going to touch it and feel it and figure out how to implement some of what that are, I mean, wow, you know,
00:18:37.680 --> 00:18:44.040 Michael Kitakis: It's powerful. And I've seen students who couldn't say they couldn't draw can do anything. All of a sudden come out of the shell.
00:18:44.400 --> 00:18:52.560 Michael Kitakis: And the great thing about it, Tom, it's all about process. It's not about the final product. It's about we're having a blast. I'm doing slideshows we have music going on.
00:18:52.890 --> 00:19:04.380 Michael Kitakis: Diane's reading books. I mean, we just, we just, you know, we blew up into this thing because it's about the love. It's about the connection going back to those three kids who sat in that cold garage. It was always about that it wasn't
00:19:04.770 --> 00:19:13.050 Michael Kitakis: Always about the art, you know, it's the process. It's the fun and we started to grow the programs and they started to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
00:19:13.470 --> 00:19:20.820 Michael Kitakis: And what happens is after each of these projects we do it again the next week and next week and then we started doing art shows after 10 weeks.
00:19:21.000 --> 00:19:30.630 Michael Kitakis: And all these people started coming in, we start selling art and they started getting excited and then corporations started saying, hey, can we bring some of that art into some of our companies and we started you know
00:19:30.930 --> 00:19:36.360 Michael Kitakis: Showing the art of the kids, you know, with special needs, and it it really grew
00:19:37.020 --> 00:19:47.040 Michael Kitakis: And the next defining moment really was about five or six years later, my company goes out of business. I pretty much put it out of its misery.
00:19:47.490 --> 00:19:56.490 Michael Kitakis: I was so attached to the organization. I just wanted to come on full time and, you know, three years ago I made the leap and came on as a full time, Ed.
00:19:57.480 --> 00:19:58.050 Tommy D: That's three years.
00:19:58.590 --> 00:20:07.470 Michael Kitakis: Yep. And when I came on um you know really the salary wasn't there, you know,
00:20:07.920 --> 00:20:15.780 Michael Kitakis: We were talking about this earlier, it's those times in your life when you say, is it a defining moment. You know, when I walked into this with nothing really
00:20:16.380 --> 00:20:25.260 Michael Kitakis: Except the dream of it growing and getting bigger, I realized that you sometimes have to take that leap of faith. And I think these times today.
00:20:25.680 --> 00:20:30.360 Michael Kitakis: Not to jump into the pandemic and everything that's going on. But the are defining moments.
00:20:30.570 --> 00:20:38.070 Michael Kitakis: There are times when you have to go back to your roots and go. Is this something I want to do in my world. It's just something I can help because that little bit of help can go
00:20:38.550 --> 00:20:47.850 Michael Kitakis: Really far it can get to a lot of different people. You know what you're doing right now and you're at. If we were just walking about it. This wasn't what you thought you were going to be doing in your career.
00:20:48.150 --> 00:20:56.820 Michael Kitakis: You know, but but you know what you help somebody and that helps somebody not help somebody you know what you did for our organization. We were just walking by with the Lindy Luke.
00:20:57.120 --> 00:21:10.770 Michael Kitakis: And you know, I know this isn't about you and your greatness, but it is, and you're part of this. I can't go. I'd be remiss not to bring it up. If you didn't, if I didn't say it but Wendy Lou was able to buy computers for our for our team so
00:21:10.800 --> 00:21:19.560 Tommy D: That's where we're going to go next. When we come back, we're gonna go back. Is that is, first of all, thank you for the your appreciation and gratitude, but in all honesty, that's just really
00:21:20.310 --> 00:21:25.410 Tommy D: You know, it's the legacy of my cousin and what we wanted to do is make sure that
00:21:25.800 --> 00:21:33.060 Tommy D: All the dollars that get raised are going to organizations like yours and making an incredible impact in the community. We want to serve those with special needs of those with IDD
00:21:33.300 --> 00:21:38.700 Tommy D: So we're gonna go to break when we come back I want you to talk about artworks, because I know we were about to get there. And that's what I
00:21:38.940 --> 00:21:39.930 Michael Kitakis: Was a perfect segue.
00:21:39.990 --> 00:21:50.430 Tommy D: I know we're good at this. And it's almost like we practice or something break is Tommy D in the attic philanthropy and focus your buddy, the nonprofit sector connector with Michael Cuttack is we'll be right back in two minutes you soon. Bye.
00:24:05.490 --> 00:24:13.710 Tommy D: That's all the time to like join Tommy in the attic. And I'm like, No, I don't want you to join me in the attic. Get out of here, man. We're trying to do stuff. I'm trying to run a business.
00:24:15.030 --> 00:24:21.030 Tommy D: Podcast, so shout out to the damaged goods, the goods. The uncle Brendan, the whole thing. Thank you. So, all right.
00:24:21.690 --> 00:24:29.700 Tommy D: Let's go into this mark I I absolutely love the spirit of Huntington, I love, I love you. I love the team. I love what you're doing. I love the impact you're making
00:24:30.390 --> 00:24:44.400 Tommy D: But if I love one piece, even more than than any other piece of this, it's artworks. So let's, let's just jump into where I felt this going down this track. We were involved in right we're at the gas station near all the whole thing. And then we moved it. So let's talk about our works.
00:24:44.490 --> 00:24:49.380 Michael Kitakis: For now, we're doing our classes. He got really, these are recreation classes for our right.
00:24:50.850 --> 00:24:59.850 Michael Kitakis: The agency folds. Um, I leave the upstairs to come down full time downstairs and
00:25:00.810 --> 00:25:06.900 Michael Kitakis: You know when you're in business for 20 something years. You just can't walk away from everything right, you got friends. You got family you're helping out
00:25:07.170 --> 00:25:22.530 Michael Kitakis: And obviously we were doing a lot of websites and social media and brochures for companies, you know, left and right. But I had a website that I was working on as a family friend and I had one of the students have to class come over to me. I was on my computer.
00:25:23.790 --> 00:25:28.170 Michael Kitakis: He's like, What are you doing, I'm like, I'm working on this website and I'm helping out a friend and
00:25:28.830 --> 00:25:36.720 Michael Kitakis: He was well let me see. I'm like, No, no, this is very complicated stuff. This is digital art, you can you, you know, this isn't, this isn't fine art, you know, go back over and draw and do you think no.
00:25:37.080 --> 00:25:44.160 Michael Kitakis: No, no, let me see, let me see, let me see. So make a long story short, he jumps on he starts moving things around. He's like, I got this. I can figure this out and then
00:25:44.640 --> 00:25:48.030 Michael Kitakis: In minutes you know all the bells started going off in my head. And I'm like,
00:25:48.750 --> 00:26:00.420 Michael Kitakis: I can't believe I want to get back into this and I realized that digital design was the next extension, because these students were with us for many years. They didn't even know where to go. They were like, graduating or going, Mike, what do we do next.
00:26:01.260 --> 00:26:10.560 Michael Kitakis: And I'm like, I don't know, go to college, but you know these guys that everyone's built for a four year degree with you know math and history and get nothing wrong with
00:26:11.010 --> 00:26:16.290 Michael Kitakis: post secondary schools that are out there, but they're really not built for special needs, and
00:26:16.650 --> 00:26:24.990 Michael Kitakis: And these students that we had were beyond capable of doing a lot of stuff. They just didn't have the time and attention to give it to them and
00:26:25.320 --> 00:26:37.290 Michael Kitakis: And we realized that we could make a difference. And we started a class called artworks, which shows them that they can make a career out of our they can get a job art can relate to working
00:26:37.680 --> 00:26:45.660 Michael Kitakis: And we started to teach them digital art I partnered up with Liu and the professor over there, Pat. VIOLA. Professor Pat
00:26:46.560 --> 00:26:55.890 Michael Kitakis: Good friends, many years. He came on board. He's been teaching digital art and design for 20 something years over Liu. I said, Pat. Can you take your program.
00:26:56.130 --> 00:27:06.180 Michael Kitakis: And go from four years to maybe a year, maybe a year and a half, and give them the same experience. It goes 100% and we work for a couple months on the whole curriculum.
00:27:06.630 --> 00:27:16.500 Michael Kitakis: We updated it created it and we started it with three people in a classroom. Again, same three kind of people you know they weren't the same three. But that same concept and
00:27:16.500 --> 00:27:16.890 Michael Kitakis: Started a
00:27:17.010 --> 00:27:26.790 Michael Kitakis: Little bit. Right. And those three students started our program and Pat started to teach them and I started to show them the real world applications of this
00:27:27.090 --> 00:27:32.790 Michael Kitakis: You know, how do you, how do you take this logo design that you're doing in digital art and turn it into a real job.
00:27:33.210 --> 00:27:40.440 Michael Kitakis: And that turned us back to our organizations all those great groups that we were working with, like, cerebral palsy Association and
00:27:40.860 --> 00:27:47.040 Michael Kitakis: And Tourette society, all these groups that we started working with in school district and I started knocking back on their door going
00:27:47.520 --> 00:27:53.100 Michael Kitakis: Who's doing your marketing and advertising. They're like, I don't know, some company we barely know
00:27:53.880 --> 00:28:00.930 Michael Kitakis: Remember nonprofits and advertising. It's a common thing to you always took one or two on. I remember it. When I had my big firm, I'd be like, ah,
00:28:01.200 --> 00:28:06.060 Michael Kitakis: Shit. We got to take this nonprofit on and, you know, suck it up and and it was the same feeling
00:28:06.420 --> 00:28:14.310 Michael Kitakis: And I went back to those groups and said, I have a special needs advertising agency. Would you be interested in working with us. And they were like, where do we sign up
00:28:14.700 --> 00:28:22.650 Michael Kitakis: I've never heard of that. I said, I don't think anyone's actually done is, you know, and we started to push our students through the program.
00:28:23.070 --> 00:28:26.790 Michael Kitakis: We started to hire them. And we started to give them employment.
00:28:27.090 --> 00:28:34.710 Michael Kitakis: So all of a sudden those same groups that we were teaching are that they started to become clients of us and they signed up to the same programs.
00:28:34.950 --> 00:28:43.260 Michael Kitakis: That I used to do with my advertising agency called synchronicity, which is you developed a mission, vision and value the brand of a company
00:28:43.650 --> 00:28:52.710 Michael Kitakis: You build the communication tools website social media brochures videos and then you work those tools to get engagement and do storytelling.
00:28:53.070 --> 00:29:00.690 Michael Kitakis: Which all of our team was really, really good at is telling the story. You know, so we started to show them how they could make a career out of this.
00:29:01.740 --> 00:29:07.260 Tommy D: Second, this is a population that the unemployment numbers are through the roof.
00:29:07.560 --> 00:29:08.400 Michael Kitakis: Right during
00:29:08.610 --> 00:29:14.070 Michael Kitakis: That 85% pre pandemic hybrid. It's in the 90s now.
00:29:14.160 --> 00:29:24.090 Tommy D: Is it is and it's wrong, obviously, but it's inappropriate but there's this whole piece where the aging out. And I remember this, you know, with my cousin when you know
00:29:24.510 --> 00:29:26.790 Tommy D: She, she worked. But what but there was
00:29:27.510 --> 00:29:30.120 Tommy D: There was just experiences where people they age out
00:29:30.390 --> 00:29:40.590 Tommy D: Of the system, quote unquote, and there's none program for them. So you are answering. First of all, look I if it's not obvious I freaking love this place. I love what they do and artworks is like my thing.
00:29:40.920 --> 00:29:48.330 Tommy D: So you're making an incredible impact and talk about the ripple effect you and I were talking about the butterfly effect, right. I think things I said is probably the last week.
00:29:48.900 --> 00:29:56.340 Tommy D: I just keep tossing these pebbles in the pond and the ripples. How far are the ripples going from what you're doing, Michael. And we're not going to have enough time to dive into all of it today.
00:29:56.610 --> 00:30:04.500 Tommy D: But how far like we talked about and kind of ignored Green Room earlier. What would you say like what you know the computers, what happens from the computers and where does it all go
00:30:04.890 --> 00:30:13.260 Michael Kitakis: So, you know, I was just using that ripple effect of how all of these organizations. And remember, we're working on purpose driven accounts.
00:30:13.620 --> 00:30:17.790 Michael Kitakis: We're working on nonprofits. We're making their mission, vision and values grow.
00:30:18.090 --> 00:30:26.070 Michael Kitakis: And this could we do at car ads. Of course we could, and I have nothing against car ads. I used to do them. But the point is now is I got the special needs team.
00:30:26.370 --> 00:30:36.840 Michael Kitakis: Working on real clients with real differences and making a big difference in what they're doing, you know, Tommy. And what happened with you know Lindy Lou and you were being able to give us
00:30:37.740 --> 00:30:50.550 Michael Kitakis: Four brand new Mac workstations that these kids were freaking out on you think they're eating. They were like, it was like Christmas. They couldn't wait to come in. I had a slow everybody down there ripping into the box and you can do
00:30:51.510 --> 00:31:04.650 Michael Kitakis: You know, but. But the point was is those machines are giving. Now these students an opportunity to work a lot better because they were on really crappy laptop old you know graph machines.
00:31:05.100 --> 00:31:11.040 Michael Kitakis: They're now able to work on a logo for, for example, cerebral palsy, one of our accounts and
00:31:11.370 --> 00:31:22.590 Michael Kitakis: Cerebral Palsy now has a better mission and a better look. And now they're going out and getting more people that they service and those people are helping other people's, you know, again, from one little computer
00:31:22.860 --> 00:31:34.560 Michael Kitakis: You gave somebody a job you gave somebody an opportunity to work on an account that person's working on account that's making a difference in that person's life, not to mention all the people that they're helping with that organization, it's, it's
00:31:34.950 --> 00:31:46.320 Michael Kitakis: It's mind blowing. When you start to think about how this was like is is just expanding last week, we got three new accounts. I mean, people are calling us up and going, I heard you do this.
00:31:46.800 --> 00:31:52.170 Michael Kitakis: I was in advertising for 25 years I never had anybody call me up and going into advertising new words.
00:31:53.400 --> 00:31:59.940 Tommy D: I, I, I regret to tell you we're running out of time. And here's what I want to, I want to ask you one. One last quick question.
00:32:00.000 --> 00:32:00.510 Michael Kitakis: Yeah yeah
00:32:00.720 --> 00:32:07.950 Tommy D: Hire some of these folks after they finished the program and then others you're helping them from a vocational perspective of where they can go right you know i mean i think
00:32:08.850 --> 00:32:16.860 Tommy D: cat out of the bag. But I guess we're going to do it now. You know, I've even heard that you're some of these folks may end up working inside of the organizations that are your clients right
00:32:17.040 --> 00:32:22.500 Michael Kitakis: The present. We've already got commitments from three or four. That said, when they're done where we want to bring them on.
00:32:22.860 --> 00:32:31.770 Michael Kitakis: And there are so excited and and you know because now there's a career involved, and even the ones that don't come on full time, Tommy, even if they're here for eight hours a week.
00:32:32.070 --> 00:32:39.480 Michael Kitakis: It's eight hours that they believe in and they all did your swag, which I wasn't able to give you, but they will get something that says stat.
00:32:39.570 --> 00:32:44.370 Tommy D: Check it out. I got that shirt because that's that's a prerequisite for being on the show. I gotta get a piece swag. So I
00:32:46.260 --> 00:32:55.710 Michael Kitakis: Think the point being is staff, they're part of a team. We have a purpose in life. I don't care if they're working four hours or 40 hours, it doesn't matter. They feel like they belong somewhere.
00:32:57.330 --> 00:33:04.140 Tommy D: If this awesome. It gives us a purpose. He gives us something to do, we're gonna we're gonna close in one minute. So here's what I want you to do for me to come back on, we can figure out the
00:33:04.620 --> 00:33:05.760 Michael Kitakis: Best yeah we'll definitely do it.
00:33:05.970 --> 00:33:09.120 Tommy D: So how does people who want to learn more about the organization, how do they get in touch.
00:33:09.360 --> 00:33:16.140 Michael Kitakis: So it's WWW dot spirit of huntington.com again my name is Mike attack. It's I'm the executive director
00:33:16.920 --> 00:33:29.460 Michael Kitakis: We work within reach students that are as young as you know seven or eight that go into the recreation up to 90 years old at the VA. So you know we have a big nice wide gap gap of ages and abilities.
00:33:29.640 --> 00:33:29.970 Tommy D: Awesome.
00:33:30.150 --> 00:33:31.530 Michael Kitakis: Know it's open flow abilities.
00:33:31.620 --> 00:33:38.220 Tommy D: I listen, I appreciate you all the time. You're a great friend of mine. Thank you for being here with me. I'm going to close. Right on. So here's the thing.
00:33:39.180 --> 00:33:48.300 Tommy D: Correct with Michael connect with the spirit Huntington. If you can't find and connect with me. How do you do that Instagram Tommy D NYC Tommy d dot NYC to mid term, Ed.
00:33:48.630 --> 00:33:59.970 Tommy D: Dot NYC philanthropy and focus. That's on Facebook. It's Find us on LinkedIn, the whole thing. Focus is about pH O C U. S. And you can always give me a Tommy DF when it's being focused com is the email. Here's the thing.
00:34:00.270 --> 00:34:12.540 Tommy D: These organizations are overlooked underfunded and often unrecognized. And my response to that is philanthropy and focus and every week at 10am here on talk radio dot NYC Facebook Live the whole deal. You'll see us.
00:34:12.990 --> 00:34:18.840 Tommy D: I am Tommy day the nonprofit sector connector. That's my friend Michael contactless Michael. Thanks for being here. Everybody
00:34:18.900 --> 00:34:23.550 Michael Kitakis: You, you're the best Tommy. Keep it going, brother. You're doing a great job. Thank you for the opportunity.
00:34:24.240 --> 00:34:24.780 Tommy D: Thanks. Bye.
00:34:24.990 --> 00:34:25.380 Bye bye.