Agent of Change

A love for people fuels one woman's desire to impact the community

Hundreds of area residents attended a Black Lives Matter march and demonstration last summer in downtown Holly Springs. Wilkins, pictured center, helped to organize the event. Photo by Don Feely Photography.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a stronger advocate for Holly Springs than Chanel Wilkins.

You may have already met Wilkins, offering a consultation at your home — she’s the co-owner of Agents of Clean professional cleaning company.

Or been encouraged by her at the Black Lives Matter march in Holly Springs last year, which she helped organize.

Or read her thoughtful questions in the IMPACT Holly Springs Facebook group, of which she is the creator and administrator.

Or sat next to her enjoying a meal at Vieni, one of her favorite local hangouts.

Or known her as a proud parent of Holly Springs High School students.

Regardless of where you run into Wilkins, her cheerfulness and positivity is infectious, as is her drive to be an advocate for good in the community.

Wilkins has a natural inclination for caretaking, which comes from her great grandmother, who helped raise Wilkins during her childhood in a small town outside of Atlanta.

Chanel Wilkins, co-founder of Agents of Clean & founder of IMPACT Holly Springs

“She felt it was her obligation to take care of the people in her town,” Wilkins says. “Giving was a normal part of life.”

Moving to Holly Springs as an adult felt like an extension of her Georgia roots.

“I love that everything is new. I love that it was a fresh, clean start. It was familiar to me,” Wilkins says. “I had been in a city that had done the same thing before.”

Wilkins’ affinity for caretaking merged into a career when she and her husband, Princeton, started Agents of Clean auto detailing and professional cleaning company.

At the outset, auto detailing was a side business for Princeton, until one of his clients inquired about house cleaning as well. An unwavering “yes” meant the fledgling business spontaneously added residential cleaning to their services.

“I’m (cleaning) on a Saturday; not happy about being there.” Wilkins remembers of that first residential client. “And I get done and get ready to pack up, and I’m like, ‘I like this. I really like what just happened.’”

“In the corporate world, there’s just not that tangible effect. … You don’t see the smile on someone’s face. You don’t see the weight off their shoulders. You don’t see that,” she says.

The couple grew the business at breakneck speed, managing multiple jobs and their family.

“I was doing consultations during my lunch break. (Princeton) would clean from 3:00 p.m. until the evening then I would do inspections in the morning. We got so big that the only way to do more was to quit my job.”

Princeton and Chanel both left their previous employment within six months of starting Agents of Clean. During the first year the company served as many as 300 houses a month.

“Being in people’s homes and being in their personal space, making sure they understand you are there because you care, and they trust you — I probably know so much about so many families, because we can talk, and that I find that to be really humbling,” she says.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Agents of Clean lost more than half of their customer base and much of their staff.

That, coupled with a family illness prompted Wilkins to slow the company’s growth and focus its service area.

“Before, we were wherever anybody needed something: Wake Forest, Clayton, New Hill, Apex, Morrisville. I wanted us to shrink back. For just me, my heart is being local. I just don’t feel right telling the person down the street, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.’”

Holly Springs residents Chanel Wilkins with husband Princeton, and children Adrian and Ava Branco

Now, productivity is higher and their staff is under less pressure.

“Doing a neighborhood in a day is much different than driving from Cary to Holly Springs to Wake Forest,” she says.

“In hiring, we wanted to find people that may have had a hard time, give them fantastic work environments, where we treated them well and paid them well, and helped change lives.”

Making an Impact

The opportunity to change even more lives came during a difficult period of time last summer, after the murder of George Floyd sparked protests around the country.

Wilkins connected with local high school students who wanted to organize a Black Lives Matter march in Holly Springs.

Leaning on her connections in the community, Wilkins worked alongside the student leaders to gather support for the march from organizations including the police department, town council and the Holly Springs Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.

“I started talking to people, and everyone was just on board,” she says.

“It was only three weeks from the time that we first met to the time that we had the march. There were about 500 people that showed up” — including Police Chief Mike Patterson and several police officers, Wilkins noted. The event highlighted speakers, performers and businesses in a peaceful show of support designed to lift up the black community.

Auto detailing, residential and commercial cleanings are all handled by the Agents of Clean team

“There are a lot of amazing people in Holly Springs that are crazy enough to believe that if we work hard enough, if we communicate, if we go all in, that we can create a community and an environment where everyone feels free to succeed,” Wilkins says.

“This is a white town. I understand what it was before 1990, currently this is a white town. If we’re gonna do anything, change anything, we have to do it together.”

And so, IMPACT Holly Springs Facebook group was born, focused on informing and engaging residents on social and political issues, and as a safe space to encourage dialogue.

Wilkins strongly believes that no matter how safe and high ranking a town is — and Holly Springs is among the best — there are always opportunities to be better. After the march, IMPACT Holly Springs became a virtual gathering space for, “What’s next?”

The group has over 1,000 members and encourages discussions about social inequality and local politics, but also celebrates Holly Springs’ successes just as frequently.

Wilkins hopes that additional community service projects and charity outreach will be possible once people are gathering in groups again.

“I see the heart of the people of Holly Springs. There will always be outliers, but there’s also a huge majority that says, ‘I have faith in our ability as a community to be a beacon of light to other places in N.C. and nationally.’

“Mark my words, in the next 10 years, you’ll hear about the best place to live in the U.S. — it’s going to be Holly Springs, North Carolina.”

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