“It’s kind of weird to say, but I feel like I hadn’t really lived, or explored until I moved to NEPA, and, in that sense, this place is really home to me.”
Ahmad Ali’s journey to NEPA stretches over 2,600 miles. He spent the early part of his childhood learning the ins and outs of his mom’s roadside market cart in Guyana. Soon, he launched from one Atlantic seawall to another and landed in Jersey City. Until then, he had known only open space and freedom and “running around the streets half naked” (apparently you can’t do that in New Jersey).
There, adolescent Ahmad shared a 1-bedroom apartment with often up to 9 or 10 family members. It proved a bit of a shock. But, at the same time, it fueled a burning, nagging urge to explore. His hard-working old man felt it too, and, at the first chance, he moved the family to Nanticoke.
It was a good fit for Ahmad. Then grass was greener, so to speak, and indeed more plentiful. He graduated from Greater Nanticoke Area and earned a degree in Business Administration from The Cube (LCCC). It was all supplementary, however, to what he learned so long ago, watching his mother push her cart along the village road, or helping his father fix up one investment property after another. For Ahmad, real education came from work. And he’s been at it since he could grip a hammer. He’s applied his “never-satisfied immigrant mentality” to sales, event planning and eventually a sweet gig with the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber.
We caught up with the Chamber’s Director of Membership and Community Engagement for a quick coffee at Pour in Wilkes-Barre. He dished on life in Ashley, being a new homeowner, and then took on the tough one – Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Since 2008. So, about 13 years altogether.
What do you love about your town?
I like Ashley, but we just moved there, so I don’t really know it all that well (laughs). What I love about it so far, I guess, is that my son’s school bus stop is right in front of the house. I think what I love about NEPA as a whole is that it offers so much. On any given day, you have so many things to choose from. There are so many different things to do. There’s a great balance. If you want that city-type life, you can live here near downtown. And not too far away, you have a more suburban, or rural kind of thing going on, you know? Then, when it comes to things to do, there are high-end restaurants and little Mom-n-Pop places. You got great hiking and biking. And the people… I’ve met people here that have become lifelong friends. Many of them have become family. It’s those relationships, you know, that are really what make NEPA stand out. That’s what makes it so great.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
Oh man. I can’t answer this question… (laughs) Can I give a copout answer? (pause) Ok. Fine. So, I like to eat a lot of different things. Like, if it’s a tiny, little unknown spot, I’m there. Those places that a lot of people might just walk right past, I’m usually like, “I bet that food’s probably delicious.” So, that’s where I’m coming from (laughs). Right now, my go-to place to recommend to people is Istanbul Grill. In Dallas or right here in Wilkes-Barre, it doesn’t matter. They’re so nice. They seem like they know everyone who walks in the door. And it’s just different from anything else that’s here. Another place that I love is Sabor Latino. They’re on Hazle Street in Wilkes-Barre. Everything on the menu is homemade. It’s always good. Yeah. Those two are like hidden gems for me.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
I definitely enjoy exploring Northeastern PA. There are tons of biking and hiking trails. That’s why I always keep tabs on DiscoverNEPA’s page, because there’s always some new trail that pops up that I didn’t know about. I also use the All Trails app, too. You can find all the local trails on there. I’ve been doing a lot more biking lately, but it’s mostly after work and I’m just hopping on the road and going, you know? Really, we spend a lot of time exploring the outdoors, here – whenever we can. Of course, we enjoy Rickets Glen. I recently discovered the Penobscot Bike Trail in Wanamie, which is funny because I used to live right by it and never knew it was there. I love challenging hikes like Top of the World in Dunmore, or Campbell’s Ledge. I also bike the Levee Trail a lot and every time I’m on it, I have a greater appreciation for how beautiful this area really is. I think that stretch from Forty Fort to West Wyoming is probably the prettiest. Honestly, I don’t think I would have been exposed to many of these things if it wasn’t for my involvement with the Chamber. It’s really plugged me into the community and I meet so many different people doing different things. I’ve really gotten to see a lot more of this community that way, you know? You’re just exposed to so many new and different things.
What’s next for you?
You see, I think this is the toughest question. I never try to think like that. I’m just always like on the go – like in the moment. I love what I do at the Chamber and things are moving forward there. It’s an exciting time. We’re reaching out more and getting more people and small businesses involved in the community. We’re trying to add more seats at the table for everyone in the community. We’re getting more people and more diverse groups involved with our councils. I think it’s going really well.
Personally, I don’t know (pause). This is tough. Ok. So, personally, I guess, within the next five years, I know that I want to purchase one or two more houses. Buying my first house was exciting. It was a dream of mine, but I definitely love the idea of owning a few investment properties – maybe dedicating that income to my son’s future.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I’m excited for Northeastern Pennsylvania. My favorite thing about this place is the people – no question. They make it work and move it forward. So, I’m the President of the Wilkes-Barre Rotary Club, and last year, we kickstarted 570 Day. And we didn’t really know how it was going to go, but we decided to run with it and see what happened and it was a great success. And, I think as people kind of learn to own the pride they have for this area, they can step up to help it become its best possible version of itself, in a way. We’ve seen people coming back to the area. They’re opening businesses, starting families, buying houses and investing in the area. If we get those folks plugged in with the right people – positive, community-conscious individuals – I think the potential for our region is exponential. I really feel like there’s no stopping it.
Because I don’t see a single reason for “Why Somewhere Else” besides Northeastern PA. I’ve been so hyper positive about this area since I moved here. I think that’s why I was a good fit at the Chamber. If I ever hear people, friends even, being negative about the area, I’m always like, “You just need to get out there.” Don’t get me wrong, most people I know love it here. And I love it here. There’s really no shortage of things to do. We’re so close to everything as well. You could go do something in Scranton, or the Poconos. If you want to go to the city, you can. If you wanted to go experience New York or Philly, you can. And you can be back at home in no time. It’s great.
But Why NEPA? For me, it’s always been about the people and the relationships I’ve built here over the last thirteen years. Everyone has their different stories, their different struggles and triumphs here, and that’s what makes NEPA so great in my opinion. I like it here. These are my people here.