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Cycling Across the U.S. for Affordable Housing

James Vadas says he was about 14 or 15 when his grandfather (also named James Vadas) inspired him by competing in triathlons. Knowing how much his grandson liked cycling, he gave young James his first bike.

This summer, the younger James Vadas is combining his love of cycling and helping others by biking across America and stopping at pre-arranged communities to help build affordable housing. The rising WCU senior is cycling with 29 other college students from Providence, R.I., to Seattle, Wash., as part of the Bike and Build initiative, whose motto is "Pedaling for Affordable Housing." The 3,932-mile trip, which traverses 15 states in 77 days, began in Providence May 31.

"It's my last summer in school, my last real summer vacation, and I thought this would be a great way to spend it," Vadas explains. "Biking across the country with a group of people and performing services for others seems like the experience of a lifetime."

An athlete and a hard worker, Vadas is undaunted by the prospect of hours cycling on the road as well as hours building homes. He runs on the University's men's track and cross-country teams (he was scholar athlete of the year in the latter's 2013-14 season) and his favorite activities are outdoors and often strenuous, including backpacking and building. He took his first long-distance bike trip last summer and, of course, he bikes to and from campus.

He learned about hard work growing up on his family's small farm in York County, Pa., raising sheep and baling hay.

Since the spring of his sophomore year until he graduates, he is the student manager of the outdoor classroom, planning and tending the gardens. He also teaches students, staff and faculty about organic gardening and environmentally friendly use of space, growing vegetables in a small space, increasing productivity and self-sufficiency. He likes to be outside and says his ideal job after graduation is opening an organic farm.

As Vadas completes his studies in urban planning and Spanish, he is keen to "try to help communities better themselves, find sustainable housing and land use solutions. … It takes imagination to change and improve things for a community. … I am very interested in becoming more active in community development in a way that will increase living standards and wellbeing."

Vadas assisted one community over spring break: He traveled to Guatemala City with Habitat for Humanity to build and repair homes as well as educate youth about public health issues. "It was an eye-opening experience that increased my desire to help families in need."

Bike and Build participants will spend one or more days in various small towns and cities in such states as New York, Ohio, Iowa and Montana. They are constructing homes and building both confidence and knowledge for the inhabitants as they present ideas on how the communities can manage affordable housing.

Vadas exceeded his fundraising goal of $4,500, which Bike and Build requires each rider to raise. Keep abreast of his route, miles traveled and donate on Vada's Bike and Build webpage.