Our Story

Our founders have been an integral part of the homebuilding community for decades, as well as fierce advocates for education and advancement.

The Academy was formed through the merger of BuildStrong Education and the non-profit training program Colorado Construction Institute (CCI). BuildStrong Education was created over 20 years ago by Oakwood Homes to improve education in the Denver Metro community and CCI provided construction training to Colorado residents, both youth and adults, starting in 2012.

A serious problem facing Colorado’s construction industry is a persistent shortage of skilled labor. At a time of record industry expansion, construction employers struggle to find enough qualified workers to meet market needs. Colorado Homebuilding Academy was founded specifically to address this labor issue. Through a series of innovative, industry-driven training programs for youth and adults, the Academy is building a highly-skilled labor force that can meet the demands of Colorado’s expanding construction industry.

Colorado Homebuilding Academy is also supported by a partnership with University of Denver–Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. The Academy also receives support from the Precision Building Systems team, who provide physical space for our training and administration.

BuildStrong_NoTag_RGB copy
PBS logo
UniversityOfDenver-Signature-01
HBA_Logo_Color

Academy Staff

OPERATIONS TEAM

Damon DiFabio, Director

Damon DiFabio is a longtime educator from Colorado Springs, and recently took the helm of the Colorado Homebuilding Academy this summer after finishing his sixth year as Principal at Career Readiness Academy.

Over his career in education, DiFabio has also taught at the elementary level, and held Assistant Principal roles at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. During this time, he had the opportunity to build relationships with students, helping them gain employment skills for the construction trades and then supporting their transition into building careers. Damon intends to leverage this experience to increase the Academy’s impact in the local Denver Metro community and with its construction and homebuilding business partners.

Contact Damon >

Roberto Hernández, Systems and Operations Manager

Prior to joining the Academy, Robert worked as a small business consultant and contractor for Denver-based organizations. He recently graduated from CodeCraft, a 10-week boot camp on designing and building websites using MEAN stack technologies, to boost his software and coding background. Before moving to Denver, he worked in Washington D.C. to direct operations, data management, and human capital support for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Afghanistan team. Roberto also served four years with the Peace Corps in Paraguay, S.A. (where he met his future wife, Bonnie) as a small business development advisor and program coordinator. Robert holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and procurement from the University of San Diego and is an amateur photographer and guitar player.

Contact Roberto >

Cheryl Schuette, Builder and Contractor Outreach

Cheryl Schuette has been engaged in the building and delivery of 10,000 homes in the Colorado marketplace. She is a corporate leader and business development expert, with a strong background in housing operations and marketing positioning. Cheryl’s work to engage Builders, Trades and Suppliers with Colorado Homebuilding Academy proactively addresses the housing industry’s significant workforce challenges. Cheryl has received local and national recognition, including being honored by the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver with the MAME Industry Legend Award in 2016.

Contact Cheryl >

Brian Dare, Recruiter

Few things excite Brian more than helping people discover their value through full lives and meaningful work. After receiving a Master of Arts and Master of Divinity, he spent three years in the financial sector followed by ten years of clergy work. That time was spent helping individuals find hope in times of crises and direction in their lives and relationships. Brian’s nonprofit experience includes community outreach, volunteer training and recruitment, crises management, goal setting, and financial and vocational guidance. Brian is an avid bike commuter, a fan of almost all kinds of music, a hobby photographer and acoustic guitar player. Brian also loves going on regular dates his wife, and has three wonderful children.

Contact Brian >

Theresa Starcher, Career Coach

Theresa brings a solid background in Human Resources and Safety Management in the Construction Industry to the Academy Team.  She understands the construction business and how to place the right people in the right job.  As our Career Coach she digs into our student and graduate’s background and construction career desires.   Theresa continuously works to expand our Employer network and knows what jobs are available now.   She carefully aligns our program completers with just the right employment opportunity within our construction network.  Theresa’s thoughtful and caring attention to each connection she makes, assures Academy grads successful job placement and career advancement.

Contact Theresa >

INSTRUCTORS

Karen Benner, CGP, LEED-AP Homes, Lead Instructor – Construction Management

Karen developed a love for home design in elementary school, and has committed her 20-year career to the homebuilding industry. After receiving her Master’s Degree in Construction Management, she spent several years managing job-sites, then progressed through a variety of roles managing the development of construction documents. Karen became passionate about the built environment’s impact on sustainability and achieved her Certified Green Professional (CGP) and LEED-AP designations in 2009. She championed green building certification of over 800 homes, helping her to win NAHB’s Best-In-Green Young Professional of the Year in 2015. Karen loves the collaborative process of homebuilding, and appreciates the role of each person involved. When she isn’t working, she is probably listening to music or a baseball game, while walking through a neighborhood admiring every detail.

Eric White, Instructor

Eric began his career as a commercial flooring installer before becoming a carpenter for 12 years in residential new construction/additions and commercial renovations. He has also run his own handyman company for 7 years, rehabilitated historic structures and led construction projects in remote locations. His particular interests are in green building/sustainability, hiking and making crafts.

Mark Babcock, Instructor

Mark has been involved in construction on and off since 1985, starting as a framer’s helper and progressing to project manager for high-end home renovations. After taking a year off to become a dive instructor in Roatan, Honduras (where he met his wife), he moved from Canada to Denver to be with his wife Lori. He enjoys traveling, diving, and working on cars in his spare time. Mark is very excited about being a part of the Colorado Homebuilding Academy and teaching the next generation of construction experts.

Robert McElreavey, Instructor

Robert is a Master Plumber with over 30 years of experience. He has been teaching the construction trades for 14 years, including apprenticeship-level plumbing. Robert has also taught carpentry skills to adults at Salvation Army centers and to court-involved young men at Ridge View Youth Services Center. When he is not working, Robert enjoys skiing, biking and surfing and spending time with his wife and two children.

Bill Wood, Instructor

With over 30 years of experience in the homebuilding, Bill is skilled at mentoring and developing new talent for his industry. Bill began his career as an assistant construction superintendent and advanced into executive positions for both large national homebuilders and small start-ups. Bill’s passion for service leads him to serve on the board for industry nonprofits, including Colorado Construction Institute and the Home Builders Foundation.

PART TIME INSTRUCTORS

Ross Campbell

David Baxter

Jon Williams

Winston Nurse

Advisory Team

Craig Campbell

President
West Region | Starwood Land Ventures, LLC
Past President of Home Builders Association of Metro Denver

Renee Zentz

Chief Executive Officer
Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs

Jay Small

President
Precision Building Systems

Amy Schwartz

Executive Director
BuildStrong Education

Pat Hamill

Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
Oakwood Homes

Eric Holt

Assistant Professor
University of Denver
Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate & Construction Management

Scott Thorson

Chief Operating Officer
Oakwood Homes