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Limitless potential: Life House starts social enterprise for young adults

Allie McDevitt (left) looks at candles being sold by Mariah Gurhey and other young adults participating in Life House’s Legitimate Hustle Program. To learn business skills, the group formed Limitless Candles. The group will be selling candles at Zeitgeist on Tuesday, with proceeds going to support the grant-funded Legitimate Hustle Program. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Limitless Candles come in range of scents, including “Love Spell & Sweet Pea” and “Fruity Sunrise.” Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Limitless Candles come in a range of colors and scents. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 4
Maude Dornfeld sniffs a Limitless Candles scented candle. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 4

Maude Dornfeld opted for the nostalgia pick during the soft open of Life House's new social enterprise Limitless Candles.

"That does smell exactly like my backyard when I was growing up," said the executive director of the nonprofit organization that serves at-risk homeless youth in the Twin Ports.

Ultimately, she was swayed to buy more scented candles at the sale, part of the grant-funded Legitimate Hustle Program, which serves at-risk homeless youth in the Twin Ports.

Participants will sell their Limitless Candles — a name recognizing unlimited potential — and provide information about the program during an open house from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at Zeitgeist Arts, 222 E. Superior St. They also plan to open a storefront and website in the future, said Margie Nelson, marketing and communications officer at Life House.

Project participant Austin Pineda said they'll have beeswax and soy candles for sale Tuesday, all handmade.

"Meadow, pine, pumpkin, apple harvest ... clean linen, coffee, cranberry, sweet pea and vanilla, and unscented, of course," said Pineda, who has participated in Legitimate Hustle nearly since its beginning more than a year ago.

In the program, adults ages 18 to 24 spend two hours every weekday learning employment and entrepreneurial skills while earning a paycheck to start a social enterprise together under the mentorship of Life House's Futures Education and Employment staff.

Before deciding to create Limitless Candles, participants each came up with a list of a half-dozen business ideas. Once they decided on candles, they created a business plan, designed a logo, decided on pricing, learned how to make scented candles, found a space to make the candles and learned about their target audience. The entire process took a lot of research, Pineda said.

Some of Pineda's family members run their own businesses and the best part of the program was gaining hands-on business experience, he said. It also provided the challenge of working with people who may be difficult to get along with. He had already worked in customer service in the past, but he said Limitless Candles has provided him with additional valuable work experience.

"This is a very rare chance for people in the community, you don't get a chance like this out of the blue, to be able to work a business from the bottom to the top. It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of situation. You don't get that very often. You want to take it when you get a chance," he said.

Legitimate Hustle is a cohort program that about 20 young adults have participated in, said Luke Morcomb, futures program manager at Life House.

"A few of those youths have found employment in the community and have retained that employment," he said, knocking on wood for luck. "On top of that, we have one young person that's in college. Some people got sober in this program."

Before the program began, Morcomb connected young people to jobs, and wasn't involved beyond that. However, there were a number of scenarios, mostly involving miscommunication, misunderstandings and frustration, that lead some of those young adults to lose their jobs.

"I would be like, 'OK, that happened? What did we learn from it and how do we move on?' That really didn't feel like a safe way to try for me because that comes with a black mark on your employment record. That's an employment place that you might not have access to anymore," Morcomb said.

Legitimate Hustle creates an opportunity for Morcomb to work side-by-side with the participants to create a social enterprise while discussing behaviors that help and hurt employees in the workplace. It also helps him connect the participants to Life House's mental health, chemical dependency and housing services.

"I hope they get to fulfill their dreams, realize their potential, because everyone here is great," he said. "The fact that they're alive says something. A lot of people would not have survived some of the circumstances that they have. But a lot of them don't realize their potential because the world's beaten them down so much. But they have great potential. They're all amazing human beings who can do anything."