The American Civics Institute has paid tribute to a supporter who donates time and treasure to make sure the organization’s free tutoring programs are a success.
Morris Park community leaders Sal Conforto and Al D’Angleo founded the organization last year and have expanded to four different tutoring locations. The program pairs high school students with children in grades three to six who need academic help.
One of American Civics’ first supporters was Paul Kolaj, the co-founder, president and CEO of Famous Famiglia Pizzeria, a chain of 600 pizzerias with locations worldwide. Kolaj was honored for his generosity and presented with a plaque on Thursday, February 11. Conforto joined Morris Park business leader Mark Gjonaj of M.P. Realty Group at 970 Morris Park Avenue to thank Kolaj.
“Paul gave us a very generous donation when we first started the American Civics Institute,” Conforto said. “He is proof that there is no better place than in American to achieve your dreams. I want the people in Morris Park to know what he has given to the community.”
Kolaj lived in the Castle Hill Houses after he immigrated to America from Italy in 1970. He and his family fled Kosovo in 1969. Kolaj’s father died tragically when he fell out of an apple tree on a farm in Italy and hit his head on a rock.
Kolaj and his siblings worked hard to save money; they escaped povery and public assistance, he said. Kolaj first found work in Italian restaurants, where he felt at home because Albanians and Italians share similar cultures.He and his siblings went on to found Famous Famigila in a 300 square foot storefront on the Upper West Side at W. 96 Street and Amsterdam Avenue in 1986.
“We took the Italian word for family because we value many of the things saw in Italian culture [while working in Italian-owned businesses]: teamwork, discipline and commitment. We have made these the core principles of our business.”
Kolaj was happy to give back to the borough where he started and considers philanthropy a business priority, he said.
“We try to stay involved in the community,” Kolaj said. “The proceeds from the first day sales at all the stores we open go to local children’s charities. I think that we give back because of our upbringing. We do the right thing when no one else is watching.”
Kolaj’s next project is Valentino’s, an Italian restaurant set to open soon in Central Park.
Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at 718 742-3393 or email@example.com