Brenda Mills says her parents instilled in her a sense of community spirit and support. Whether it came to visiting the sick to feeding the poor, especially during holidays, she worked by their side in Waxhaw, N.C., as a girl, sometimes even taking down letters for elderly people.
A City of Asheville employee since 2005, Mills has found plenty of opportunities to put those values to work. As Economic Development Specialist, she leads the Minority Business Program and the City’s Public Art Program, both of which involve outreach to the community.
Now she is being recognized by the very community she works to serve.
Brenda’s contributions to the Asheville community were acknowledged during the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville & Buncombe County and the Asheville Housing Authority’s Residents Council during their Stand Against Racism Program, 3 p.m. April 30 at the Edington Center, 133 Livingston St. The program’s theme was “Standing on the Shoulders of African American Women Pioneers.”
Joseph Fox, retired department chair for the Business Administration Department at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, nominated her. “Her role as a change agent in Asheville has opened doors for women, people of color, and individuals from low-wealth communities,” Fox wrote in his nomination. “It is with high regard and a personal privilege that I recommend Brenda Mills to be recognized for her many accomplishments as an African American female change agent for the 2017 YWCA Stand Against Racism Program.”
The oldest of three girls, Brenda’s family remains in Waxhaw, where she grew up. Though she moved to Asheville in 1992, it took a while for her to feel truly a part of her adopted home.
“This award is about acknowledgment, that I’ve been made part of this community,” she said. “And it says to me that I belong here.”
Beyond her professional role promoting minority business development, Brenda has had an active role as a community volunteer, including with the Martin Luther King Jr. Association. “I was an usher at the annual Prayer Breakfast for several years,” she recalls. “That’s how I got to know the community. It was fun.”
She’s also served on the YMI Goombay Planning Team, the YWCA of Asheville board, the United Way board and the Helpmate board. Through these roles, she gives back to community.
Brenda recently conducted the Government-Business CONNECT fair for the City, an event designed to show local businesses how to do business with government. During the past five years, that event has gone from being a City-owned exhibitor fair with 10-12 booths to now 31 booths representing local agencies region. And attendance has doubled.
It’s all about collaboration. That kind of energy inspires her most.
“I bring people together,” she said. “Everything I’ve done professionally and personally includes some sort of collaborative effort.”
You can find Brenda Mills working in the City’s Community & Economic Development Office on the fifth floor of City Hall. She can be reached at BMills@ashevillenc.gov or 828-259-8050.