NY Elite: How did Active Albanians Organization come together?
Marsel Alickolli: The “Active Albanians” organization can trace its roots to Los Angeles, California, dating back to September 2018. Its humble beginnings as a social club and community organizer result from two good old friends Marsel Alickolli and Mario Ismaili. They were the founders who started a trickle-down effect that no one had imagined. Besides their friendship, Marsel and Mario shared an infatuation for surfing. Little did they know that surfing would be both a great first activity and not so popular for the Albanian community.
They started a Facebook page called “Active Albanians Los Angeles” as their preferred platform to inform the Albanian community about the activities they were hosting. Motivated to make an impact, Mario and Marsel organized a series of diverse activities in the Los Angeles area, such as hikes in Palos Verdes, various beach volley and beach days that resulted in a successful turnout. If one were to ask both of them not, they would jokingly say that the rest is history, but that was not quite the case.
Given the increased interest and number of new members, the Active Albanians began to organize very successful activities. Amongst the most popular were PaintBalling, September 2019, Rock Climbing February 2019, Mud Run February 2020, Bawling November 2019, Hikes December 2018, Surfing March 2019 and the most impactful of all a fundraiser event during the devastating Earthquake Albania was engulfed in December 2019.
NY Elite: Has the mission and vision of Active Albanians changed since its creation as a club now being a Non-Profit Organization?
Marsel Alickolli: Active Albanians started as a common wish of two good ole Albanian friends Marsel and Mario who were eager to connect the Albanian community here in the States, they did that in the form of a social club. Little did they know of what it would become. In the early stages of our organization, the mission and vision were often focused on the organization’s core purpose and the specific goal it addressed; connecting our Albanian-American community in the West Cost of the U.S , the Active Albanian original way. Needless to say, this vision originated from our early beginnings as a Social Club in Southern California.
As the organization grew, it expanded its focus and adapted its approach to better meet the needs of our Albanian-American community in order to respond to new challenges, making this Non-Profit a real difference maker for us all. The organization itself expanded to different states such as Texas and Michigan as new Board members and members joined.
During the past two years we have been focusing on growing and expanding our organization’s reach not only in our unique activities but also in important fields such as education. This is a much-needed help that our growing and eager to succeed Albanian-American community could truly make use of. Albanians are no longer the first generation of emigrants anymore, hence a vital contributor to the future of our home-away from home, our beloved United States.
NY Elite: Who are the current board members and how many members does the organization have? How can one sign up to become a member?
Xhulio Kreci: The Active Albanians board has a total of four members, all coming from different professional backgrounds and life experiences. The diversity of professional expertise of the board members, helps the association to see different perspectives and issues that might come up with our projects ahead of time. Even if we come from different fields, what we have in common is the passion and desire to bring our people together and create a strong Albanian community.
The President and founder of our Active Albanians Nonprofit is Marsel Alickolli. He moved to the US when he was a teenager in 2002 and currently resides in Dallas, Texas. Marsel embodies the values of the humble beginnings of our organization. While his higher education in the field of finance was his initial academic achievement, ventures he has involved himself with in his Professional life are Wholesale distribution companies such as ILIRIA FOOD SERVICE in Chicago, Dallas, and a Specialty Gourmet wholesale Foodservice company in Southern California.
The Vice President is Marsela Bregu. Marsela moved to the United States in 2019 and graduated with a third Master degree in Educational Leadership and Inclusion Specialist from Calvin University. Her love for learning made Marsela pursue her first Master degree from European University of Tirana. She moved to Hungary in 2018 to finish her second master of Science in School Psychology. Marsela has been working as a research assistant for the past three years and is currently working as a Spanish Immersion teacher in Michigan.
In the position of Secretary, we have Xhulio Kreci. He currently lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he recently got his third Master degree in Law from Loyola Law School. Xhulio worked for Universities, NGO’s, transportation and insurance multinationals. Before moving to the US in 2019, he lived in five different European countries.
Enis Sefa is our newest board member, and we are excited to have him join our team by helping us spread our vision. Enis was born in Gjakova, Kosovo and at the age of 14, he moved to Houston, Texas. He is very passionate about technology and that passion came to flourish when he founded VEXU Robotics Club. Today, Enis works as Improvement engineer for a chemical company in Houston, Texas.
As part of our mission to provide our community with value, we are constantly in search of motivated Albanians who want to make a difference. Our merit based application process for our board positions invites applicants to be part of our vision and contribute to our community by sharing our mission. Everyone is more than welcome to apply by reaching out directly to us or through our website. One of the ways to get to be a member is by being nominated by current members. The applicants have to go through some steps that involve: complete the membership application or nomination process. This may involve submitting a membership fee, providing references, or attending an interview. Once your application is approved, you will typically receive a welcome package and be added to the organization’s mailing list. You may also be invited to attend meetings and events or to participate in volunteer activities.
NY Elite: What platform does the organization use to engage the community?
Xhulio Kreci: The original Active Albanians Social Club had one one facebook page that served as the original platform for its outreach to the community. The current Active Albanians Non-Profit Organization has evolved to have 4 separate and regional facebook pages, an instagram page, a website as well as a fun tik tok platform that make up our virtual platforms link to connect Albanians from all over the United States and why not all over the world. It’s important for our nonprofit to choose the platform that best fits our goals and target audience. Active Albanians is using a combination of platforms to engage our community.
NY Elite: What is the nature of activities that the club used to offer to the Albanian-American Community?
Marsela Bregu: We wanted our club to be unique and stand out from the traditional Albanian interactions, a nonchalant no judgment zone where every participant can be themselves without having to fall back into the subconscious stereotypes of social status comparison, family parentage or even country, city or village origins. Our primarily outdoor activities would focus on bringing together like-minded Albanians from all walks of life who desire to participate in a particular activity regardless of skill or frequency of indulgence in the past. Activities would range from hiking, tennis, bowling, surfing, skiing, mountain biking, scuba diving, spearfishing, jet skiing and even painting and yoga to mention a few. But how is this different from a simple get together the old Albanian style at the coffee place one might ask.
For instance, on a hiking and surfing event a young Albanian family with their senior high school daughter got to connect with one of our accomplished engineers whose life interest had motivated him to achieve a Phd in engineering and work for a multinational company in his field. Little did they know that their daughter was interested in the field but didn’t know how to get started. Because of this interaction both the family and engineer benefited from each other’s eagerness to share and help. Geni’s wisdom and life lessons serve not only as motivation for the young family but also a direct path academically and contact sharing to help along in the path to pursuing this academic career. At the same time, the mere fact that Geni was in a position to help fellow Albanians made his day. No wonder our motto is “Stronger Together”. We only refer to this story as an example of added value to our participants that were part of the magic of the Active Albanians and their impact in the community since the early stages.
NY Elite: How is the organization helping the Albanian community?
Enis Sefa: We all know how important the value of the community is to Albanians in the US, where one can witness entire neighborhoods named after the national roots of the people that live in that area. In all aspects of life, we are keen to interact with people we trust, trust that is created over time and between people with common values.
Albanians are a small community relative to bigger communities from the Asian continent, Latin America, Middle East and also other European states. Regardless of its size, Albanians are recognized for their strong family values, hard work the sense of hospitality that is arguably more our more distinct attributes. The association is trying to link successful Albanians with each other and with other younger fellows that want to improve and grow together. By success, we don’t only mean professional financial success but a broader social impact.
We are a platform that is helping Albanians through different projects, initiatives and events. The first challenge and achievement for us was bringing people together. Through our professional and outdoor networking events we connected many Albanian-Americans, and we hope that those connections will bring common benefits. We are all linked by an invisible string that will affect our life as individuals and as Albanians. Is interesting what is happening once you leave your country and start a new life abroad. The first people you will meet and interact with, will be people of your same nationality. What these people do for living or fun will most likely be also what you will end up doing. By being active in different states we organize at least one in-person meeting where people can engage in different outdoor activities or professional meetups. It is surprising how many successful Albanians are out there that are willing to network and help.
NY Elite: What are some of the recent initiatives?
Enis Sefa: This year for the first time we are currently providing 2 scholarships for students with Albanian roots. Education in the US is very expensive, and we hope to provide some relief to students who have high academic achievements. For the years to come we are predicting more funding and higher scholarships. We got approved for Federal Grants and were granted access to Federal platforms that provide funding for Nonprofits. All the approval process required a lot of work by our team but we are sure that thanks to this approval we will get involved soon in more projects.
Networking events as we said previously, are the base of our association. We do all of this to have a real impact on the life of real people. Meeting these people in person and connecting with them is very important and inspiring.
NY Elite: What are some of the success stories?
Marsela Bregu: Active Albanians have engaged with local communities in Albania to promote community development initiatives. For example, we facilitated programs to improve access to education by offering 2 scholarships during the 2022-2023 academic year. Eliza Alushi from Detroit Michigan and Erjon Camaj from New York are the first recipients of our scholarship program!
Besides that, Active Albanians has mobilized a network of volunteers to support their programs and initiatives. We have recruited volunteers with diverse skills and backgrounds to help with specific projects, events, or campaigns who are coming in the future. We are proud to say we have volunteers from different states who are eager to help us with all the events we organize such as California, Texas and Michigan.
At the same time Active Albanians has established partnerships with other government agencies, and private sector companies to leverage our resources and expertise. Is important to notice that Active Albanians has grown as an organization, expanding our reach, building our capacity, and increasing our impact. We have developed new programs or initiatives and secured new sources of funding to support our work.
NY Elite: How is the organization engaging the Albanian-American Community currently and how has that changed from past initiatives?
Xhulio Kreci: Expanding the scope and reach of this organization has been one of main goals since the transformation of our early social club to a full-fledged non-profit. While we continue to engage the community with our social events in different parts of the States as we successfully did in the past, we have been focusing more on organizing networking events in many parts of the U.S such as the ones in Dallas and Los Angeles to mention some of the latest. Active Albanians has also been providing some educational resources and volunteering activities. We are proud to say we have members all over the US who are eager to participate and help with our events and fundraising in the future.
NY Elite: What are the hopes and goals for the future of Active Albanians Non-Profit Organization?
Marsel Alickolli: Our hopes and goals for Active Albanians include: Increasing our impact: Active Albanians likely aims to expand our reach and impact by engaging more volunteers, partnering with other organizations, and implementing more programs to address community needs. One of our goals of Active Albanians is empowering communities: As a non-profit organization, we aim to empower communities by providing resources and support to help individuals and groups achieve their goals and improve their quality of life. We are hoping we will offer more scholarships in education in different rounds during the year to support our young Albanian students by providing some relief in the academic part of education. To achieve their goals, Active Albanians may aim to enhance their organizational capacity by investing in staff development, improving their technology infrastructure, and streamlining their processes and operations.