Merita Kraya, 2020 Inductee
Merita was born and raised in Albania.
Although she loved her life, she knew from a very young age that she could not live in communism and planned a long time to leave the country.
This was one of the hardest decisions Merita had to make, not knowing when she was going back, left behind her mother and two brothers.
Merita’s first stop was Rome, Italy; with only $50 she quickly started looking for work. Fortunately she spoke two languages and was employed with the US Embassy and IRC (International Rescue Committee) and as a nanny.It gave her great joy to help refugees and people in need who had suffered from oppressive regimes.
After all the paperwork was done, Merita moved to Chicago where her aunt lived, as a political refugee. She returned to Italy to marry her longtime boyfriend. The couple returned together to New York City.
After almost two years, Merita and her husband decided to move to Arizona where it was more suitable to raise a family. All her four children were born in Arizona.
She got a second degree and taught at Glendale Community College and later found a job as a civil engineer for the new light rail project.
To this day Merita still translates for the state department and has continued to work with the IRC and refugee resettlement programs. It was one of her great joys to welcome the new citizens some years back as an honoree guest speaker.
With her engineering experience, Merita started building restaurants and bars, so she found the perfect location for her client. Plaza Fountainside was just starting to be built. Halfway through the project, the client pulled back, and Merita had to make a hard decision to open and operate the restaurant herself. The restaurant gave her flexibility to be with her children and her mother who came to live with her.
First day of business, St Patrick’s Day 2001. It was the busiest day, but they didn’t know and they were not prepared. Everything went wrong. They brought a friend who was a chef from Italy who taught them everything. Merita learned how to run a restaurant, and she has owned and operated Euro Pizza Cafe successfully for 19 years now.
She has hired and mentored high school students to help them grow and learn.
She has been heavily involved in the community, providing funding for numerous projects including OktoberFest, Mountain to Fountain race, the Balloon Glow and Fourth of July activities. She has served on the Chamber of Commerce board and sponsored events for VFW, the Marine Corps League, Fountain Hills Theater, taught at the Community Garden and helped with the Concours car show each February.
One of her happiest moments of her life was when her 78-year-old mother became a U.S. citizen. Her brother now lives in Peoria, as well.
Today Merita is a single mother with four talented children. Her oldest daughter, Leila, moved two years ago to Albania to model and became a sportscaster for one of the biggest TV station in Tirana.
Her older son, Ahmet, is a U.S. Marine studying neuroscience at the University of San Diego.
Miriam she was an elite gymnast for 13 years, graduated Summa Cum Laude from ASU, and works and lives now in Dallas, Texas.
Bekim, her youngest is currently in EMT tech school in the Air Force in Texas.
Her greatest pride is her children.
Merita says that family values are the most important no matter where you live.
Merita is a woman of great strength, faith and determination. She certainly has realized the American dream.