Architects Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas, Inc., build up communities by partnering with nonprofits


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James Pappas


For decades now, the architectural firm of Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas, Inc., has focused on a company-wide goal of giving back to help others, tackling projects that not only change landscapes but change lives. Today, more than half of their clients are nonprofit organizations who are working in tandem with the FSP team to shelter the homeless, aid single parents, house teens in need and more.

“It’s always been our philosophy to give back where we can,” said Jim Pappas. The firm’s founder opened his team’s eyes to the needs of nonprofit organizations in Michigan and metro Detroit, added Pappas, helping to mold staff efforts today.

Established in 1963, the Ferndale-based Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas is an award-winning, full-service architecture firm recognized for designing unique living environments.

Most recently, the firm celebrated the dedication of a renovated emergency shelter facility for the Coalition on Temporary Shelter, also known as COTS. The nonprofit human services organization is dedicated to addressing the homelessness crisis in Detroit. The new facility will provide an updated, safe and modern space designed to meet the needs of homeless adults.

It is projects like this one that have earned Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas, Inc., a reputation as a knowledgeable, supportive architectural partner, with clients returning often when new projects arise. “Organizations come to us via word of mouth while others are repeat clients,” said Pappas. “It’s a good feeling to know that they keep coming back to us.”'

Working with nonprofits is a specialized skill, requiring an understanding of the challenges that many service organizations face in trying to secure funding and provide care for people facing often unfathomable crises – and all on a limited budget.

“The architect has to work hand in hand with the nonprofit to support the programs they are trying to provide,” said Pappas. “You have to be flexible both on the business side of things and on the design side.”

That flexibility means working with the resources that the nonprofit can muster for a project, dependent as so many organizations are on private philanthropy alongside state and federal grants.

Flexibility also means working creatively to help the nonprofit best meet the needs of its clients. For example, in working with the Pope Francis Center to create off-street housing for the homeless, Pappas and his team learned from the program leader that some individuals, whether because of mental health issues or past detrimental experiences, cannot bring themselves to sleep indoors.

With that thought in mind, the FPS team designed an outdoor space within the center that provided concrete floors with radiant heat and a heat source from above so people could safely sleep outdoors while still in the care of the center.

It is an example of how important design is to the heart and soul of each project, always keeping in mind the people who will be living their lives within it. When FSP designed a housing facility in partnership with Vista Maria to provide care for women who had escaped human trafficking, the space had to have security enough to ensure the residents were safe. At the same time, though, it was vitally important that the building not feel like a prison. To help people heal, “you want to create a sense of family and place and try not to make it feel like an institution,” said Pappas.

“There’s a learning curve with each new organization as we get to know their philosophy,” said Pappas. Making that effort to learn the philosophy, to get to know the people who work with clients, to better understand the issues behind the clients’ needs and wants all lend themselves to superior design that meshes with each nonprofit’s mission and aims.

Other projects completed by FSP include the conversion of the old Bell Telephone building in Detroit into a permanent supportive housing site for the Neighborhood Service Organization. Currently they just started working on the second phase of the organization’s Detroit Healthy Housing Center, and it will include 56 beds of emergency shelter for people medically at risk as well as 17 beds for medical respite, for people who have been discharged from a hospital but are not well enough to be on the street or in a shelter.

The new Pope Francis Center will create a space with 50 units of bridge housing as well as respite rooms, a kitchen and dining area and more. Beyond housing, the center will provide training for people in food service to help facilitate job acquisition for homeless and out-of-work individuals.

In addition to their work with nonprofits, Pappas and his colleagues do significant projects for senior housing, nursing care and assisted living including Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, CSI Support and Development and Evangelical Homes of Michigan.

It is the ideal mix for a group of architects who put community first, helping stabilize neighborhoods with new construction and first-rate facilities that help people and organizations in need. “Quite a few people in our firm came to us because helping others is what they wanted to do,” said Pappas. “They can go anywhere to build shopping centers, but they come here to do this kind of work.”

Their work earns recognition each year, including most recently, earning the Vanguard Award for Major Rehabilitation of an Existing Rental Housing Community for their work on the LaBelle Towers Co-Op in Highland Park. Also in 2021, they were honored for Commercial Building Architecture in the 2021 Detroit Home Design Awards for their work on Blossom Springs in Oakland Township. Their work on Cedarbrook of Rochester in Rochester earned them the 2020 PCBC Gold Nugget Award for Best Service Enriched Senior Community.

“I have such great respect for the people who work in these fields taking care of the homeless, the elderly, children and others. They care deeply about the individuals they work with and we are grateful to help them where we can.”