Super Couples

Five metro Detroit couples who donate their time, energy, and resources to each other and their communities

Dream Team

Strategic Staffing Solutions’ Cindy Pasky and Paul Huxley share a commitment to give of their time, talent, and money

By Sheryl James

In late July, a small, intimate group of people shared a luxurious dinner beneath a canopy placed in the middle of, well, a construction site. The dress was formal, the food was gourmet — and, of course, the dogs and cats were really cute.

This was “Pawte Cuisine,” a fundraiser held at what soon will be the Michigan Humane Society’s (MHS) new Detroit Animal Care Campus, located in the city’s North End neighborhood a few blocks away from its current facility — a former piston ring factory built in 1890.

Yes, that’s right. 1890. The dinosaur of a facility has served Detroit’s needy animals for nearly 100 years, and was still doing so as the 90 or so people relished their dinners at the new site, where they were encouraged to pick out one of those cute animals and take it home.

It didn’t take Cindy Pasky more than a few minutes to adopt a spaniel mix.

“I don’t think that dog’s feet ever touched the floor the rest of the night,” says Matthew Pepper, MHS president and CEO.

He wasn’t surprised. No one there was surprised. They all knew that Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3) in Detroit, and her husband, Paul Huxley, S3 chairman, already had their share of rescued animals in their home — which they jokingly call the “wild kingdom.”

They also knew that the well-known and beloved couple had paid for this soiree, too. In return, guests were asked to donate $5,000 over the next five years to MHS’ “Hope Is Building” campaign.

“We wanted to have an event where people could make some significant contributions, but not everyone can afford to do that,” says Huxley, who is chairing the campaign. The five-year giving span “opened it up for more people.”

Pawte Cuisine is just another example of Pasky and Huxley’s level of commitment, Pepper says. The couple “is really passionate about animal welfare, but they feel it is not just an animal issue, it’s a community issue,” he says. “Even more is their passion for the city. Their passion permeates everyone around them. It makes everyone believe.”

That’s pretty high praise — and hardly unusual. Similar comments about Pasky, 55, and Huxley, 69, come from Tony Michaels, president and CEO of The Parade Company, which holds America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Every year, you’ll see an S3 float full of dogs and a lot of S3 volunteers. The Parade Company also conducts the Turkey Trot, which is a 10K run, and 5K, 1-mile run/walk. It takes place before the parade begins.

“We needed to find a new sponsor,” Michaels says. “I sent a quick email to Cindy one Sunday morning, and, I’m telling you, she wrote back immediately saying, ‘Absolutely interested, let’s talk very soon this week.’ By the end of the week, we had an agreement.”

The new name is now the “Strategic Staffing Solutions Turkey Trot.”

Michaels called Pasky and Huxley because he knew them, and he knew that few others had a stronger commitment to Detroit. They are, he says, “an amazing team. I see them at so many functions. If you go look at all the things going on in the city, Cindy and Paul make it a point to support so many of them. It’s endless.

“I’m sure they have to pick and choose,” he adds. “But it is amazing how many things you see their company name and their own names on — and they are all good things.”

Building up Detroit is key, Pasky says. “Paul and I believe that for a state to be successful, it has to have a very strong headquarters city.”

The couple also lives in Detroit. “Having been here, we have a very different perspective on how far the city has come and what it can do,” she says.

You could go all over town, gathering kudos and thanks to the couple from folks at places as diverse as an orphanage in Lithuania (where S3 has offices); a Detroit charter school; military veterans that S3 recruits, trains and employs; the Mounted Division of the Detroit Police Department; the Mariners Inn; Detroit Riverfront Conservancy; Reading Works! and many others.

As Michaels says, “They set the bar,” and the bar has been set high.

In 2014, S3 donated more than $1.4 million and “countless volunteer hours to charities globally,” according to its website. Since 2000, the figure is $8.5 million. This does not include what Pasky and Huxley donate as individuals, or their considerable time serving on various boards. (“Cindy is ahead of me on that,” Huxley says. “She has a very high energy motor.”)

Pasky and Huxley represent many generous metro Detroiters who give of their time, talent, and treasure, over and over it seems, so that the area, and Detroit in particular, prosper.

They also serve as role models for future donors, continuing a proud tradition of giving in Detroit that goes back decades.

To such people, giving is, as S3’s website puts it, “just part of our DNA.” That’s certainly what you could surmise about Pasky and Huxley. It seems as if they were born with the instinct to give.

Pasky grew up in Detroit, Westland, and then Plymouth, an only child in a middle class home. Her father, who worked for Burroughs Corporation, instilled in Pasky the notion that corporations have a civic responsibility to give to their communities.

After Pasky graduated from high school in 1978, both of her parents fell ill, “so I just went right to work,” she says. She was lucky to find a job as a programmer trainee in 1979 making $11.75 an hour, a huge rate for that time. She never found time for college after that, but she did find time to learn the world of business.

In 1990, Pasky founded S3, a “global information technology and business services company.” She located her business — where else — in Detroit. From its first year, the company has always turned a profit. It now has 31 branches in the U.S. and Europe, and posts more than $264 million in sales.

Huxley also is a native Detroiter. After high school, he attended classes at Central Michigan University and the University of Detroit; he also served in the Air National Guard. He founded his own company, Compass Inc.

After a few transactions between their then-small firms, Huxley and Pasky decided to merge them. It was after that move that they began to date; they married in 1994.

They enjoy their dogs and cats, and their favorite Detroit haunts: Wright & Company, the Tap Room at the Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit Tiger games, the Detroit Golf Club, and the cigar lounge at the London Chop House (Yes, they both smoke cigars).

Meanwhile, as the couple has grown S3, they’ve never lost sight of their shared commitments.

Perhaps most endearing in this couple’s philanthropic mindset is that individuals are as important as cities. Their recent aid to one formerly homeless gentleman who now works at S3 and operates his own charity is a good example.

Says Pasky: “If you are really sincere and thoughtful, you can find ways to have your company give people an opportunity to change their station in life.”

“There are so many organizations and people and animals that need talent, time, and money,” says Huxley. “To me, if you have any of those to give, why wouldn’t you?”


Denise and Conrad Mallett

A life of public service means responsibility to education, health, and the arts for one of Detroit’s most influential couples

By Chuck Bennett

When asked to describe themselves, words like power and influence don’t come across the collective minds of Conrad and Denise Mallett. Almost simultaneously, they both quietly, but firmly state “responsibility” as their mantra. They are proud to call themselves public servants and blessed to be in positions to help support education initiatives and more in the city they love.

“Conrad and I take our responsibilities as public servants very seriously,” says Denise, who is the provost of education affairs at Wayne County Community College District. “It’s who we are.”

She recalls a higher education seminar that she and Conrad attended where the speaker said, “Don’t define yourself by your job or by your obligations. In other words, if you are an educator, that is what you do, not who you are. If you are a mother, that is your joyful obligation, but not who you are.”

Conrad, a former Michigan Supreme Court chief justice who is the Detroit Medical Center’s chief administrative officer, chimes in: “We are extremely fortunate and we don’t take that lightly. We are doers, giving as much as we can, using our modest affluence to create influence, especially in the African-American community.”

In October 2015, Denise was co-chair of the Detroit Public School Foundation 2nd Annual Champions of Education fundraising event. “Conrad and I will make an important contribution, but more importantly, our goal is to lead this organization to achieving its highest goal,” she says.

In conjunction with DMC, through grassroots efforts, Conrad is chairing the initiative to ensure that everyone in Detroit has health insurance— no small task in a city of close to 700,000. In the last few months, he and his team have facilitated the enrollment of over 14,000 Detroiters. As part of his and Denise’s three charitable focus areas, Conrad is also heavily involved with a high school boys mentorship program.

“We concentrate on education, health, and the arts as our categories of charitable involvement, but we also support our friends who support us,” Denise says.

“We are proud of what we do and we do what we can quietly. We do the work because we love the people we serve and for us, that’s enough.”


Jordi Carbonell and Melissa Fernandez

Coffee shop Café Con Leche brings much more to the community than just a cup of joe

By Stephanie Shenouda

Local business owners Jordi Carbonell and Melissa Fernandez have been fostering collaboration, creativity, and neighborhood development ever since they opened Café Con Leche’s first location in southwest Detroit at Bagley Avenue and 21st Street in 2007.

Carbonell, a native of Spain, wanted to introduce coffee drinks infused with Hispanic flavor to Detroiters in search of caffeine. Fernandez, having grown up in southwest Detroit, noticed a lack of community spaces and wanted to create a place that felt like the city’s living room.

“Community spaces are important because they bring everyone together and create a level playing field,” Fernandez says, adding that Café Con Leche does just that. “It’s a place to come and see who your neighbors are, study and get Internet, or meet and work with friends and even community leaders.”

Community leaders are regulars at Café Con Leche’s current location in southwest Detroit at Vernor Highway and Scotten Avenue, as well as Café Con Leche Nord in New Center. The two storefronts have served as meeting spaces and networking hubs for a variety of local organizations including Alternatives For Girls, LA SED, the Clark Park Coalition, Grace in Action Church, and UNI — Union Neighborhood Initiatives.

The couple contributes financially to many of the organizations that they host in their cafés, but Carbonell says as a small business owner, his donations often take other forms.

“Donations of money [are] hard for me, but donations in coffee and goods, I can do that,” Carbonell says with a laugh.

Carbonell also donates his time by serving on the boards of several neighborhood organizations including Living Arts, Young Nation, and the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

Fernandez says that local businesses such as FoodLab Detroit and Motor City Match have also tapped into Café Con Leche’s creative energy, and that at the cafés, the couple works to accommodate the mix of regulars, organizations, and out-of-towners that frequent the establishments.

When the pair first moved into their southwest location, they said it was “one of the worst corners in the neighborhood.” But Café Con Leche has become a community staple, hosting events like open-mic nights for local high-schoolers and providing a safe space for young artists to hone their craft.

And while it may not come with a green straw, a drink from Café Con Leche — be it the Cortada, a Cubano, or the Mexican hot chocolate — isn’t just about powering through your afternoon’s to-do list. It’s an invitation to pull up a chair, extend a hand, and get to know the local community.


Henrik and Emma (Andersson) Zetterberg

Detroit’s most recognizable team of Swedes reaches out locally and abroad

By Lexi Trimpe

While most fans of Detroit Red Wings’ star Henrik Zetterberg applaud him for his work on the ice, the team captain has also been recognized for his charitable work both globally and locally in the  metro Detroit area.

In June, Zetterberg was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, an award the National Hockey League gives “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.”

In 2013, Henrik Zetterberg and his wife, Swedish musician and TV personality Emma Andersson, founded the Zetterberg Foundation. The Detroit-based organization not only gives back to the Detroit community, but it also supports global efforts involving children, education, women, and health care.

The couple has hosted numerous local charity events and drives, including a smoke-detector drive for Detroiters in need. Former Red Wing Brendan Shanahan started the program in 2001, and the Zetterberg Foundation has since taken over the drive, with the Zetterbergs themselves contributing more than $60,000.

“Since ’01, I think we are up to 28,000 smoke detectors,” Zetterberg told Fox Sports Detroit last year. “Step by step, we try to make this bigger and hopefully keep doing this and save some lives.”

The Zetterberg Foundation has also benefited local organizations such as S.A.Y. Detroit, a Mitch Albom charity that aids the homeless in the city by providing shelter, food, medical care, volunteer efforts, and education; CARE House of Oakland County, which aims to prevent child abuse and neglect by providing assistance at home, school, and in the courtroom; and The Detroit Achievement Academy, a free public charter elementary school serving urban youth.

Then there’s the Zetterberg Foundation Suite at Joe Louis Arena, which hosts children during Red Wings games who are battling illness, disease, neglect, and poverty.

The Zetterberg Foundation’s reach goes well beyond Detroit. In 2009, the organization partnered with ActionAid, an international organization whose primary goal is to combat poverty and injustice. After Andersson traveled with ActionAid to the remote village of Kemba, Ethiopia, in 2009, the foundation funded the construction of a primary and secondary school, assisting more than 900 students.

The organization also broke ground on a local water project in 2014 with the help of a $25,000 donation from the NHL. Once completed in December, the project will provide 3,000 people in Kemba with clean, drinkable water.

In addition, the Zetterberg Foundation has also supplied microgrants to women in the village in order to support small businesses. To date, more than 500 women have benefited from these loans.

This August, the couple, who met in 2006 and married in 2010, welcomed their first “Zetterbaby” into the family.


John and Alicia George

Fighting blight and ‘spreading the Detroit love’

By Lexi Trimpe

In June 1988, John J. George encountered a problem in his neighborhood on Detroit’s west side. A dilapidated house near his home had turned into a drug den. Determined to raise his family in a safe, clean environment, John teamed up with neighbors and fellow young fathers Felix B. Wright III and Albert E. Mack to board up the troubling house and clean up the surrounding area.

Not only did their operation succeed in turning the drug dealers away, but it also inspired John to establish Motor City Blight Busters, an organization that revitalizes Detroit communities by tearing down abandoned homes and building and renovating new ones. The founding of MCBB also led to John meeting his now-wife, Alicia.

In 1995, single mother Alicia Marion moved to Detroit’s west side. She looked at nearly 300 substandard houses in the area attempting to find a place to settle her family, before finally settling on a house owned by MCBB that the organization had renovated. The move inspired her to volunteer for MCBB. Eventually, inspired to give back to her community, Alicia left her job and began working full time as John’s executive assistant.

While working with MCBB, Alicia dreamed of opening a coffee shop in her own neighborhood that would serve as a social and creative space for local residents. In 2003, MCBB helped bring Alicia’s dream to fruition by purchasing a blighted property in Old Redford that would become the Motor City Java & Tea House, as well as the Artist Village — a creative hub for artists in the city.

Today, the Artist Village is a 6,000-square-foot entertainment and shopping complex with four commercial tenants, three residential tenants, and two 750-square-foot office spaces. The collective aims to use public art in a way that revitalizes the neighborhood and teaches local youth how to market their creativity. It also serves as volunteer headquarters for MCBB, which, to date, has raised and invested over $20 million for revitalization projects in Detroit.

Much like Artist Village, Motor City Java & Tea serves as a social space for residents and volunteers to coordinate creative resurgence efforts. The space also helps foster economic development for west side neighborhoods and hosts events such as poetry readings and jazz concerts.

Together, the Georges, who now live in Old Redford, plan to continue their city improvement efforts and leave a lasting legacy of restoration.

“We’ve been blessed with so many corporate sponsors, so many volunteers and so much good will,” John says. “We call it spreading the Detroit love.”