Albanian Heritage Graphic

White Plains, NY — On Monday, the Westchester County Board of Legislators celebrated their second annual observance of Albanian Heritage Month by honoring two exemplary Albanian-Americans: Dr. Sulejman Celaj and Henry Djonbalaj.

Board Chair Catherine Borgia (D – Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, Croton, Ossining, Peekskill) convened the ceremony by saying, “Westchester County and New York State are actually home to the largest Albanian American community in America, and tonight we recognize the meaningful contributions, hard work and exemplary citizenship of our Albanian-American neighbors and friends. The spirit of the Albanian people -- strength, determination, and the drive to help and succeed – is very evident in our two honorees this evening: Dr. Sulejman Celaj and Henry Djonbalaj.”

Legislator Vedat Gashi (D – New Castle, Somers, Yorktown) presented the first proclamation saying, “I, myself, am an Albanian-American who, like our two honorees tonight, came to America as a refugee in search of a better life. We are a tight-knit community, each with our own stories of hardship and success.”

“As we celebrate Albanian Heritage month, it is such a privilege to honor one of Westchester’s great Albanian Americans, Dr. Sulejman “Mani” Celaj, Chief of Cardiology at St. Barnabas Hospital. But, Mani is not just a doctor -- he is also a deeply committed humanitarian and deeply committed to his Albanian roots. In 2019, after an earthquake devastated Albania, he teamed up with his daughter, Adea, to raise relief funds. Here in Westchester, he organized a Health Fair at Our Lady of Shkodra Church to aid this significantly underserved community, and he was recognized in Time Square for his contributions to COVID patients here and abroad during the pandemic.”

Dr. Sulejman accepted the proclamation saying, “Having experienced persecution as a marginalized group, an Albanian in communist Yugoslavia, I only knew that I want to live a free life. Moreover, upon my arrival to the United States, I knew that I needed to work very hard to make good use of that freedom, not only for myself but also for my family.”

“My first few years here were rough ones...It was at this time I took to reading the works of Mother Teresa. Two quotes that stuck with me are ‘Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you,’ and ‘Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.’ I would like to live my every day helping others with love, as Mother Teresa stated. I began with the Albanian community. But, now that I can, I want to expand my philanthropic efforts even more.”

The Board declared November 16, 2022, “Dr. Sulejman Celaj Day” in Westchester County.

You may also go to Vimeo to watch the full video.

Minority Whip James Nolan (R – Bronxville, Yonkers) presented the second proclamation saying, “Henry moved to the City of Yonkers over 30 years ago, where his impact on the local community has been monumental...He established Henry Djonbalaj Real Estate in 1997, which is one of the most prominent real estate brokerages in Yonkers today, and has been a dedicated and active member of the community.”

“Henry has the distinction of being the first Albanian-American member of the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency (IDA). The goal of the IDA is to help the city start projects that advance the job opportunities, health, recreational opportunities, and economic welfare of Yonkers residents. This work is vital to improving everyone’s standard of living and making the City of Yonkers such a hospitable place to live...Henry is an integral part of our community and a wonderful role model for the Albanian community.”

Mr. Djonbalaj thanked Legislator Nolan by saying, “I immigrated to America from Albania with my family almost 40 years ago in pursuit of the American dream -- a dream that I have been fortunate to have achieved through hard work and persistence in order to have the thriving real estate business of which I am very proud.

This is why I do so much work for my community. We, as Americans, no matter who we are, must help those who are less fortunate realize that they, too, can achieve the American dream. This honor is not only for me but for every Albanian who has the determination and the courage to leave their homeland to pursue a better life. This honor is for every Albanian who is striving towards a better life for themselves, their family, and their community.”

The Board declared November 17, 2022, “Henry Djonbalaj Day” in Westchester County.

You may also go to Vimeo to watch the full video.

Read the program for Monday night’s event at: