Nora Spencer is the Founder & CEO of Hope Renovations. She is also a United Way of the Greater Triangle’s ‘10 to Watch’ member. In this conversation, Nora tells us the story of what inspired her to start Hope Renovations. She also tells us about the power and opportunity of women entering the construction industry to serve people aging in place. Nora is a 2021 Leadership Triangle Goodmon Fellow.
This construction industry offers a lot, and women don’t have access to it. And this is the way that I can help provide it. I can create a program that trains women the skills they need to access construction jobs, make living wages, and have better lives.
Owen Jordan: What is the story behind Hope Renovations?
Nora Spencer: I used to be a corporate HR person recruiting workforce development. I did that for about 15 years. But, on the side, I taught myself how to do home repairs and renovations. I started small. My husband and I bought a foreclosure, and just, you know, we were too cheap to buy, to pay people to do the stuff we needed to do. So, I started doing it myself, was good at it, and loved doing it. It snowballed over the years, and I did more and more projects. And throughout that whole time of doing it, I found it enjoyable and thought it could be a good career change for me. But this is undoubtedly nothing ever presented to me as an opportunity. And that stuck with me later in life.
I decided to go back to school and get a Master’s of social work at UNC, and while I was there, I was trying to figure out a way to bring together best my work background, passions, and talents. This construction industry offers a lot, and women don’t have access to it. And this is the way that I can help provide it. I can create a program that trains women the skills they need to access construction jobs, make living wages, and have better lives. Toward the end of my master’s program, I learned about aging in place and that all the outcomes in our lives are better if we age in our homes. We don’t have to go live with a relative, and we don’t have to go live in a facility. There need to be more contractors doing this work. And it dawned on me that if I create a training program for women, they’ll need hands-on skills, so why don’t they get their hands-on skills while helping this population that needs it? And so that’s how Hope Renovations was born.
Owen Jordan: That’s very cool. What was the primary impact of the Transforming Leaders program on your life?
Nora Spencer: When you start something, you’re in it so deeply every day that you get bogged down, particularly in running the business and managing processes and people. And it is tough to step outside of that and develop yourself. The Transforming Leaders Program allowed me to do that for the first time since I started Hope Renovations. And you know, I remember one of the sessions we talked about the concept of not managing but leading and what that looks like. It taught me how to take the time to be introspective and improve myself and our work.
And also, to be able to do that in a room with other people on the same journey and to be able to sit at that table with my team and have all these light bulb moments was very validating. I also liked that, you know, the folks in my group and throughout the room were at various places in our careers. You know, there were other founders like me, but there were folks who, you know, had been at their companies for two or three years. There were early career, mid-career, and late career. It was such a diverse group of leaders and such a diverse group of thought. And sometimes, you just don’t take the time to reach outside your bubble and hear what others are thinking. And it really allowed me to do that. And it was the right thing at the right time for Hope Renovations and me.
Owen Jordan: How did the Transforming Leaders and even the Transforming Teams program impact the way you lead your team and the way your team operates?
Nora Spencer: It changed my leadership style, and I learned to adaptively lead in any one situation rather than falling back on how I usually lead. My team would agree with that.
The Transforming Teams program was great for my team because it’s hard to step outside ourselves. Having that space to think about how we can function better as a team so that our jobs are more manageable, you know, and so that we are more effective in our work. We often don’t make the space just collectively to think through issues and problems and situations. We don’t make the time to look back at how we performed or how we dealt with a particular case. And it gave us space to do that, and it brought my leadership team closer together.
Owen Jordan: That’s good. Did you make any meaningful connections during or after the program?
Nora Spencer: Absolutely. I made meaningful connections. I’m still, I’m still buds with a lot of the people that I met in the program, and, as a relatively new organization and mainly being a nonprofit, those connections are critical. We have struggled to get traction regionally. It’s funny, we’ve gotten a lot of national <laugh> attention for our program, but there are still people in Wake County and Durham County who don’t know who we are. This program, the leaders I met, and the connections I made have helped my nonprofit engage more on a regional level. And then I think just also having those relationships and, and having peer level folks that you can reach out to that has been so valuable to me just to be able to, you know, send somebody email and say, Hey, is, is this something that you’ve experienced? Because I feel like really on an island here and very much alone and having built those relationships in the program, it’s just precious to me.
Owen Jordan: Awesome. How can people best support you in your work with Hope Renovations?
Nora Spencer: We get the question of how to get involved, and I think one thing about being a relatively new organization is it’s hard for us sometimes to figure out how to connect people. We want so much for people to be involved in our work, but being small, being kind of early on in our genesis, and all the growth that we’re experiencing, it’s a lot coming at us right now. And sometimes it can be challenging for us to figure it out. There are many ways that people can support us - funding, support, donations, gifts, that sort of thing. But I love when people want to volunteer their skills, experience, and time. Tell us what is meaningful to you. We want to plug people in.
Learn more about Hope Renovations and ways to get involved at: https://www.hoperenovations.org/