This CNN Hero helps women build new lives by giving them free training to pursue construction careers

Nora El-Khouri Spencer, a licensed general contractor and social worker, founded Hope Renovations in July 2020. She was named a CNN Hero this year.

The North Carolina-based group aims at providing women with the skills, certifications, and training necessary to secure good-paying jobs within the construction industry.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBoLS), women make up less that 4% of all construction workers, which includes plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.


Construction workers are paid nearly twice as much as restaurant and hospitality workers. Most of them are women.

Nora’s mission is to help females broaden their prospects and earn good wages while rebuilding their own lives.

“My vision is that one day we [will not] think it is unusual for women to be working in this industry,” she told CNN. “That women [will be] doing this work, making these good wages, and creating better lives for themselves.”

Trainees of Hope Renovations

The retiring baby boomers are causing a labor shortage in the construction industry. Nora’s 10-week program, offered through Hope Renovations, hopes to bridge this serious labor supply gap.

Giving opportunities to women in the construction industry is only one part of Nora’s mission. Through her program, her professional construction team—made up of all women and nonbinary individuals—makes safety modifications to senior citizens’ homes.

“Our program is actually solving two problems at once. We are bringing in women to this industry and helping older adults age in their own homes. It’s a win-win,” Nora explained.

Nora, who grew up with parents who weren’t handy, only started learning her skills later in life when she had purchased a home with her husband.

“I realized pretty quickly that my tastes were outside of my budget,” she said. “So, I just started buying tools and trying to learn things on my own. And I figured out pretty quick that I was good at it.”

Nora El-Khouri Spencer teaching a woman woodworking

Nora honed her skills over the years thanks to YouTube and family. She would also hire contractors to help with more complex work and ask questions. That’s when she realized something.

“And then, it hit me that I had never met another woman, and I began to wonder about why that was,” she said.

In her mid-30s, Nora quit a successful human resources career to get a master’s degree in social work. She got the opportunity to work in a women’s shelter that helps women get back on their feet.

She would often suggest that she work in construction, which would pay more than minimum wage. She received the same reply every time.

“No one has ever taught me any of that stuff, it is a man’s job,’” they would tell her. “I realized there is an opportunity gap. That is a gap I can help fill.”

Hope Renovations team

The first few weeks of Hope Renovations’ training program are spent in the classroom, where students are taught safety, construction math, and blueprint reading. They then move on to more hands-on training in electrical, plumbing and carpentry. Each woman receives her own stocked toolbox after she graduates.

“We have folks from all walks of life that come to us: single moms, women in recovery, women who are just re-careering. All kinds of different people coming together and finding a shared excitement,” Nora said.

Nora has trained over 40 women since Hope Renovations was founded. Many of them have found work in the construction industry.

The group’s full-time construction team, assisted by program trainees, has finished over 130 projects, most of them for seniors.

Nora El-Khouri Spencer with a group of women

Nora is incredibly proud of what her team has achieved since the nonprofit’s founding.

“If we really want to get women into this industry, we need to take out all the barriers that we can,” she said. “We want to make it as easy for them as possible.”

“If we do not see women out there doing this, other women, they will never see this as an opportunity,” she added. “If you cannot see it, you cannot be it. We offer hope to those we serve. We are helping them renovate their lives.”

Donate to this GoFundMe page to help Nora and Hope Renovations achieve their mission.

***Did you enjoy our feel-good and positive story? Support our site by simply subscribing and sharing our stories to your friends.