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 a 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 Paint Balling, 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.
The group has had a positive impact on the life and wellbeing of its members. Rena Kujxhiu, an Active Albanian Member said: “I now have made many Albanian friends for life just because of our events.” Another active member, Besiana Husted added: “This organization has allowed me to connect with parts of myself that I had compartmentalized and forgotten since I moved to the States. Our upbringing is so similar, and even if we didn’t grow up together, it feels as if we have known each other since we were little. Exploring nature together and going on adventures has bounded us, and as we learn and get inspired by one another, we truly understand how lucky we are to have the same brand, “Made in Albania.”
“I am thrilled that Active Albanians has grown and has a positive impact today in United States. We are committed to serve our Albanian community here and we hope to strengthen our role and community engagement here in the U.S.,” said Mario Ismaili, co-founder of Active Albanians.
Interview with Marsel Alickolli, co-founder of Active Albanians
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired the creation of Active Albanians?
Marsel Alickolli: I am one of the founders of the Active Albanians organization and I was born in the beautiful city of Pogradec, Albania. Among all opportunities I was blessed to have had in my life, one was to move to the United States in 2002. That opportunity on the professional aspect only culminated when I graduated from DePaul University in Chicago in the field of finance. While the Albanian community in the United States had grown exponentially since two decades ago when I left Albania, I always felt that we could strengthen our community, advance, and ultimately give back to those who have not the same opportunities.
Through Active Albanians we have a range of different activities (including family-oriented ones). My role is to organize a variety of events that everyone feels welcomed, comfortable, and ultimately celebrated. The Active Albanians is currently a modest yet effective organization with greater aspirations to significantly impact our community. My goal is to turn this organization into a non-profit to ensure growth and continuance in the future.
Tell us about when the club was formed and the mission of Active Albanians?
Marsel Alickolli: Creating a club beyond our close group of friends was being flirted in get-togethers for some time. On September 9th, 2018, our official “Active Albanians Los Angeles” Facebook page made its first introduction to the Albanian community in the greater Los Angeles and surrounding states. I remember Mario and I debating whether we should cross-post our events to other Albanian pages in California, Arizona, Nevada that usually shared a different type of content for their respected audiences.
The initial purpose of the club was to introduce other members of our community to activities they had not been introduced to before and embrace ideas that members would suggest. That successful approach grew our ranks and challenged us to extend our Activities out of our home state. I am happy to say that the beginning purpose is now a mission. Our mission is to turn the Active Albanians organization into a structured non-profit organization, one that can take a life of its own and give much more to our Albanian community than initially could when it started.
What is the current platform of the club?
Marsel Alickolli: The original Active Albanians club now has three platforms. The original “Active Albanians Los Angeles” Facebook page, a new Facebook page which intends to organize our fantastic community in the Dallas Fort Worth area, and an Instagram page that will serve as a link to connect Albanians from all over the United States and why not all over the world. We hope that when we achieve the non-profit status, all platforms will tie under that big umbrella. This will ultimately empower Albanians wherever they are and allow them to connect and network in ways that haven’t been done before.
Who are some of the organizers when the club was founded?
Marsel Alickolli: Mario Ismaili and I wanted to grow this modest family, and just like magic, members began to grow. To mention a few among many, Imir Metushi, Rena Kujxhiu, Nasho Aleksi, Sam Prapaniku, Irini Duro, Besiana Husted, Klejdis and Ervina Rodoni, Erjana Rodoni, Joana Marku, Endrit Agastra, Marsela Bregu, Stela Kantiou and many more.
Can you tell us about some of the activities the group has organized?
Marsel Alickolli: If there is something this organization prides itself is the diverse range of activities it has successfully carried so far. We cannot forget the time when our Active Albanian boys and girls went scuba diving in the kelp-infested area of La Jolla, California, held hands, and raised both the Albanian and the American flag underwater. The several skiing events in Big Bear and Mammoth, California have been the subject of enjoyable bruised knees, high fives, and exciting stories at the fireplace. Skiing alone has had a meaningful impact on the self-esteem of our young Active Albanians. They all take our Active Albanian motto to “Never Give Up” to heart and apply it to their personal and professional lives, just like when they go skiing.
Our Albanian competitive spirit and sportsmanship were put to the test when the Active Albanians organized a paintballing event. Team Alpha and its counterparts team Beta generated get-together smack talk stories that live on still today when we get together. If I were to pick one event that I hold as the most meaningful of all, that would be the fundraiser during the devastation of the Earthquake in Albania in 2019. Our organization wanted to do everything we could to help the country that has given us all so much, our identity. While the Active Albanians platform and members raised awareness in the community, we also engaged in this fundraiser to help alleviate this unprecedented burden to our people in Albania.
If I were to mention a more significant event, this was it for our organization. The logistics raised some challenges that we hope to be less of an obstacle when we transition this organization into a non-profit hence our mission.
What other activities has the group promoted?
Marsel Alickolli: One of our members, Jonida Lika suggested, to host a painting class event. Because of Jonida’s persistence and her willingness to host the event herself, however, we had our one and only all-girls event to date.
What has been the feedback from the group members and others involved?
Marsel Alickolli: For the most part, I have seen two types of Active Albanians, and their feedback is slightly different. First, some seat on the sidelines and cheer for the successful activities of our organization. This group is split between what we call the “forever cheerleaders,” the “wannabes,” and the “converts.” The first subgroup who loves nothing more but to see our Albanians connect and add value to each other’s lives, grandparents are an example of this subgroup. The “wannabes” are those who never find the courage to actually come and experience our events despite their desire. Finally, the “converts” are those who grow closer and closer to becoming attendees with every event.
Then we have the other group who show up, join us, and ultimately have many more fireplace stories for their grandkids especially on those long cold winter nights. Those stories usually always start with, “back in my day……”
What is your message for the Albanian youth today?
Marsel Alickolli: When I was younger, all I wanted to do was to grow up. As an adult, all I want is to live as a teenager. From my humble experience, ten years from now, many people most likely would be disappointed by the experiences they did not live through than by the ones they did. My grandfather in Albania used to say: “Gjella me kripë dhe kripa me karar.” In other words, life is full of experiences, and one should be able to go out there and try out just as many as he can, but everything in moderation is the key to a happy, fulfilled and healthy life. / Marsela Bregu