As Franchesca dips row after row of candles into hot paraffin wax at Lithia Springs School this week, she thinks about how much her life has changed in the past year.

As Franchesca dips row after row of candles into hot paraffin wax at Lithia Springs School this week, she thinks about how much her life has changed in the past year.

Before she entered the Lithia Springs treatment program for troubled youths, she had a drug habit and wasn't on track to complete high school.

Now, the 17-year-old is sober and working to get her general equivalency diploma so she eventually can attend Oregon State University and become an environmental lobbyist in Salem.

One of the programs that helped turn her life around, she says, is Lithia Springs' vocational class, where students hold real jobs at the Mission Candles factory.

"A year ago I didn't have control over my life, and now I want nothing more than to have control over my life," said Franchesca, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, since she is a minor in a treatment program. "This job has showed me that responsibility isn't dull."

In 2001, the Central Point owners of Mission Candles donated the business and equipment to the Lithia Springs program, enabling it to start a vocational class.

The hand-dipped birthday and taper candles are sold at Market of Choice in Ashland and at Whole Foods stores across the country, said Jason Fauble, production assistant and vocational instructor.

The business is self-sustaining and run as a nonprofit, allowing Lithia Springs to focus on educating the student employees instead of having to continuously increase profit margins.

"We're not looking to grow with profit as the bottom line," said Shemaiah Gooden, Mission Candles program manager. "The growth is about the education of our youth."

Students who have graduated to the second level of the treatment program and have good behavior are eligible to apply to work at the factory. They go through an interview process and, if hired, are expected to work between 10 and 16 hours per week.

"It's a real job, and they're expected to show up on time," Fauble said. "On top of that, they also have to keep up with their schoolwork and do well in their therapy groups."

The students are paid minimum wage, $8.50 per hour, and are eligible for a 25-cent wage increase after six months. Students use the money to pay off court-ordered restitution or save it for college, Fauble said.

Carlos is using the money he earns at the candle factory to pay off restitution from past crimes, he said.

Working at the factory has helped Carlos, whose name also has been changed to protect his identity, develop confidence and learn responsibility, he said. Before coming to Lithia Springs, the 17-year-old had a drug problem and had been in trouble with the law.

This is his first real job, and he hopes to use it to find other employment in Jackson County after graduating from the program in about two months, he said.

"Pretty much any permanent, stable job I'll do," he said. "I want to keep busy and stay out of trouble."

Carlos, who grew up in Gold Hill, also plans to attend Southern Oregon University next year and study psychology so he can help troubled youths, as he himself has been helped.

"I want to give back for the stuff I've done," he said. "I want to turn something good out of something bad."

Students can list the candle factory job on their resumes and use Fauble as a reference when applying for future jobs.

"I try to work as hard as possible so I can have really good references," Franchesca said.

Vocational programs are especially useful for at-risk students, Fauble said.

"This gives them a chance to succeed in the workplace," he said. "They learn time-management skills, planning and preparation."

Franchesca said she also plans to get another job when she finishes the treatment program and heads home to Redmond, but she knows it might not be as exciting as making colorful candles.

"I'm assuming this is more fun than flipping burgers," she said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.