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San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

‘Scent-sational’ Candle-Making Business Helps Light Up Nonprofit

When you pick up one of the white cardboard boxes holding a variety of pleasantly scented candles near the entrance of Home Start’s thrift store in Normal Heights, you will see names written on the sides of them.

But “Alexis,” “Chloe” and “Shania” aren’t some trendy names of the candles – they’re the names of the artisans who crafted them.

Alexis Leftridge, Chloe Hamm and Shania Hughes are three of the current group of eight artists who craft the candles, and it is their personally signed names that shoppers see on the boxes of soy-based wax candles sold both at the thrift store and online.


Wafting through the air on any given day inside the cozy store are gorgeous, heady scents that emanate from the burning candles. The aroma might be lemon verbena, cucumber melon, gardenia, orchid, raspberry, rose or even the newest, a tropical mix called Sandy Dreams.

Leftridge, Hamm and Hughes are all formerly homeless young women, and all are part of nonprofit Home Start Inc.’s programming efforts that help those living on the street or who are otherwise unsheltered get safely back on their feet and live independent, healthy lives.

Bright Futures Candles by Home Start Inc. is the name of the company that produces the handmade candles. The entire operation – wicks and wax, glassware and packaging materials, a large wax heating machine and several large tables – is housed in a repurposed unit of a three-unit building behind the Home Start Thrift Boutique at 3611 Adams Ave.

The two upper units above the candle making operation are used as housing for women in need.

The thrift boutique – with the motto “Repurpose for a Purpose” – is filled with all sorts of typical secondhand store items, but with the unique addition of the candles. The boutique is a repurposed Craftsman home that was once the site of Lou Curtiss’s Folk Arts Rare Records and then was a Curves women’s studio.


Thrift Store as Social Enterprise Vehicle

The thrift store is a so-called “social enterprise,” reinvesting its profits back into programs that help at-risk families and children thrive and succeed. The store also offers Home Start clients job training and career opportunities that are walking distance from the organization’s transitional housing.

The thrift store became a reality for Home Start in 2014 through a gift of about $1.5 million from Margaret “Meg” Jacobs, a social worker who worked at Home Start during part of her career. Jacobs died in 2012 from complications due to breast cancer.

Home Start officials launched the Bright Futures Candles venture in 2019 as an additional way to teach job skills and generate employment for women in the organization’s Maternity Housing Program.

“When we started our housing program geared to young moms ages 18 to 24, I asked peer counselors who were formerly homeless, ‘What else do we need?’” said Home Start CEO Laura Tancredi-Baese.

The resounding answer she received – employment.

About 50 people have worked at the thrift store in the past 6½ years, Tancredi-Baese said, and about 25 at the candle creation site.

“We launched the Bright Futures candles venture three years ago as another social enterprise for those women who needed some flexibility in their schedule,” Tancredi-Baese said. “It gives them different skills training and helps them figure out, ‘What parts do I like the most?’ Do I like sales and marketing, researching websites, learning design, working on the computer? Do I like product testing, learning about what ingredients are used or coming up with new, interesting scents? Do I like being on the computer or do I like customer interaction or working at service or working on displays?’


“With Bright Futures, we give young moms who have come from homelessness and often have violence and trauma in their backgrounds a chance to build self-confidence, build skills and build resumes.”

Tancredi-Baese said that between addressing housing and providing education and job opportunities, Home Start has been able to meet important needs of a population that historically hasn’t been properly served.

Helping Stop Multigenerational Cycles

Tancredi-Baese said multigenerational problems “need to be addressed in comprehensive ways,” especially where vulnerable populations of young women, young families and young children are concerned.

She said previous Home Start clients/employees have transitioned from working at the thrift store or candle making site and catapulted to other jobs and careers.

She cited several recent success stories from the Home Start work program. “They learn with the opportunities they get that they are capable – and that people believe in them,” Tancredi-Baese said. “We give them a great place to build their confidence skills and grow their own sense of accomplishment. They can move on to other full-time jobs that make them feel good.”

Home Start has been around since 1972, begun with the mission of preventing child abuse and child neglect by strengthening families and communities. Those in the Home Start organization view major contributing factors to abuse and neglect as: poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment and unsafe neighborhoods.

Home Start’s main objective is to help individuals and families gain financial stability and independence. The group helps people with financial advice, application assistance for government and public benefits, career counseling and job placement. As those in the program work toward the goals of stability and independence, they can also receive emergency help for their housing needs.

Home Start has four houses that offer transitional shelter to homeless individuals, and also has a maternity housing program with a strong focus on women and their children, with stays of up to two years for those in need.


Tancredi-Baese, said she saw a severe lack of housing for pregnant young women and new mothers. The maternity program provides clients with safe, secure and supportive housing units as well as the ability to participate in intensive case management services.

The women who work at the candle making operation all take part in the Home Start program, but not all are pregnant or young mothers.

Bright Futures Candles employee Hamm has no children but had been without permanent shelter for several years. Now at age 19, she has a roof over her head with Home Start housing. For the last four months, Hamm has been working part-time at the candle making operation while attending school at the San Diego Job Corps Center as she looks to a future in the nursing profession.

Hughes, 21, is also childless, but was also without shelter before connecting with Home Start. She has been working at Bright Futures for eight months, lives in Home Start supportive housing and is making plans for her future.

Leftridge said she was 23 and a single mom to a 1-year-old son, living in and out of shelters when she was connected with Home Start through a bridge shelter program. Four years into Home Start programming, she and her son recently were able to move into an apartment near the thrift store.

Leftridge works at the thrift boutique but also works in the candle making venture as well, helping train and other staff members and overseeing quality control measures. She said she has been considering carving out a future going out on her own in the candle making business.

She said Home Start has made a major impact on her life.

“They have given me support and let me know that I am not alone,” she said “They help me to believe in myself. I know now that whatever I want to do, if I put my mind to it, I can succeed.”

Home Start Inc.


CEO: Laura Tancredi-Baese


BUSINESS: Nonprofit

REVENUE: $11.8 million in FY 2021



CONTACT: (619) 692-0727

NOTABLE: Home Start, Inc.’s Bright Futures Candles program offers job opportunities as it supports women with housing and wraparound services. 


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