Nora E. Spencer’s hobby in home repairs led to work on small renovations alongside contractors and tradespeople. But many times, she wondered to herself where all the women in the field were.
Spencer decided to leave her job in corporate America in late 2020 — during a global pandemic — to study social work. But it was an internship at a local homeless shelter and a class in business school focused on aging that shifted her attention to a way she could help both groups.
Spencer wanted to help women recognize the numerous, well-paying jobs available in the residential construction industry while also creating a workforce to enable more seniors to stay in their homes. Her nonprofit, Hope Renovations in Carrboro, N.C., now empowers women to pursue living-wage jobs in the construction trades via a hands-on training program, while a construction program provides repairs and renovations that help older adults stay in their homes as they age.
The work that she and her team do, including graduating more than 40 women and non-binary individuals from the Hope Renovations program and completing more than 130 projects, mostly for seniors, led to recent recognition from CNN. As a CNN Hero, Spencer encourages more women to get involved in residential construction. "We need to take out all the barriers we can and make it as easy for them as possible."
That includes making her program free of charge and offering a stipend for women below a certain income level to help with transportation and childcare during their training. Spencer says her vision is that one day it won't be unusual for women to be working in the industry where they currently make up just 3% of the skilled trades and less than 11% of the overall construction industry — and in the process making good wages and creating better lives for themselves and their families.
Spencer is the 2022 chair of the Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council at the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange & Chatham Counties in North Carolina. She was also named the 2021 NAHB Young Professionals Award winner for NAHB’s National Region B. The award recognizes young building industry professionals under the age of 45 who propel their careers forward by advocating for the industry, engaging with their peers, and establishing themselves as exceptional members of their communities.