Madeleine Pelzel sees a direct connection between stable, affordable housing and a student’s performance.
“A lot of kids whose families live in apartments or short term housing change schools a lot,” said Pelzel. “There are all sorts of statistics about higher high school dropout rates and lower secondary education rates — just lower academic fulfillment in general — when you don’t have that singular school experience.”
Having a stable home for a student to return to each day to complete their homework while attending the same school the majority of their lives is intrinsically tied to student success, according to Pelzel. A fact that has pushed her to take part in a bike ride to benefit at-risk families by building homes in New England this summer.
The socially conscious Forest Park grad is attending Rice University in Houston majoring in architecture and minoring in anthropology. She credits her passion for architecture, education and people to several of her teachers at Forest Park.
Jeff Johnson, the long term Project Lead the Way leader at Forest Park, and Ray Niehaus helped influence her pursuit and love for architecture. She was also inspired to become a leader and co-found the student-led group, LEAF (Learning Experiences in Applied Fields) through encouragement from Niehaus. That group was designed to pursue educational opportunities through free-exploration and collaboration in science and engineering fields.
Melded to this is a passion for people and the world that was inspired by English teachers at Forest Park like Rock Emmert, Molle Scherle and Leslie Shobe. They opened her eyes through the literature they introduced her to in high school.
Before heading to Rice to pursue a degree in architecture, Pelzel fell in love with long-distance bicycling on while on a 1,800-mile ride from Key West to Bloomington. This inspired her to join the local bike club when she arrived at the university. There, she quickly combined biking and philanthropic efforts that raise money for causes like multiple sclerosis research. Additionally, she became a member of the university’s triathlon team.
That background and her pursuits fit well into the mission of Bike & Build, a group that establishes bike tours with several home builds on the route. This summer, Pelzel will take part in an 841-mile trip through New England that includes five stops to help build homes for at-risk families along the way.
As part of the trip, Pelzel is required to raise $2,400 for the nonprofit group that organized the ride. The money doesn’t go to support lodging and meals for the trip which appealed to Pelzel. Rather, the cycling group will benefit from organizations like the YMCA and churches for lodging along the route. Then, all the funds raised will go directly to Bike & Build who in turn supports the home builds directly as well as provides grants for future housing projects and for other housing-related nonprofits.
“A portion of the money I raise will go to next year’s houses, which is really fantastic because it keeps the program sustainable,” she said.
It’s an important mission for Pelzel whose eyes were opened to the impact stable housing can have while she was working with Habitat Houston in preparation for the trip. “It’s hard to say I am going to help solve this one huge problem. One house, one family at a time is very tangible, though,” she explained. “That one house influences multiple people and those kids have better relationships with other kids and it creates a web that builds from one house. As an aspiring architect, what one house has the potential to do is really special.”
Pelzel leaves on the five-state bike trip in June. She and the team will start working on the first house in Portland, Maine on June 14. Then they will head to house builds in Salem, Mass., Nantucket, Mass. and New Haven, Conn. before heading to the final build in New York City. Anyone wanting more information as well as sponsorship opportunities can visit her trip site here: https://classic.bikeandbuild.org/rider/9401.
“I’m looking forward to forming relationships with a lot of people,” she said. “I feel like you can learn a lot about different people’s situations or their ideologies that might seem oppositional or different than your own ideas through working together, passing a hammer and placing a new wall.”
Pelzel is the daughter of Morris and Pamela Pelzel, formerly of Ferdinand.