Volunteer work with vulnerable persons in the community - a study about inclusion

Kasper Kruithof, Jeanine Suurmond, Doortje Kal en Janneke Harting

Performing work is regarded as a key factor in the social inclusion of vulnerable persons. However, such social inclusion appears to be problematic in both mainstream and segregated settings. We aimed to examine whether volunteer work in integrated settings could be a suitable alternative. In a case study, we interviewed 13 vulnerable persons who were enabled—through a “Quarter Making” intervention—to perform volunteer work in a community setting. Data were analyzed using concepts from social epidemiology and social sciences.

Participation in the community gave respondents structure, and made them feel useful, meaningful, and proud, as well as a useful interconnected part of society. Interpersonal relationships provided them with superficial but meaningful contacts in the community, and helped them to transcend their social group, and—sometimes—build friendships. These experiences of improved social inclusion resulted in respondents reporting better mental health and wellbeing, and speaking in terms of feeling more normal and—sometimes—in terms of recovery.

To improve the social inclusion of vulnerable persons, performing volunteer work in integrated settings could be a suitable alternative for mainstream work or work in segregated settings. Interventions aimed at matching vulnerable persons to integrated settings, like Quarter Making, should preferably find a balance between creating bridging capital, to allow vulnerable persons to connect to “the normal world,” and offering bonding capital, to give them a safe place where they can “learn and relearn” to deal with the demands of modern society.

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