Ambiguous, Affective, and Arduous: Volunteers' Invisible Work With Young Adults

Jenni Mölkänen, Päivi Honkatukia

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Mentoring has been regarded as a promising way to reach at-risk youth and to strengthen the protective factors. This article focuses on emotions, reflections, and challenges that adult volunteers face in trying to establish and maintain a friend relationship with young adults in a multicomponent mentor setting in Finland. Based on our participatory observations in volunteering, a focus group discussion with volunteers and facilitators of volunteering, and interviews with young adults we analyze the nature of volunteers’ actions as invisible work as characterized by Devault (1999). We argue that invisible work should be recognized as a significant part of volunteering in a multi-component mentoring setting. The main findings in this particular case are the following: (a) There are limitations in short-term and project-based work in establishing meaningful relationships between young people and the volunteers/staff. (b) The volunteers are not always equipped to address the material and mental health support needs of the young people. (c) The organizational focus aiming to improve the volunteers’ experience does not solve all the problems related to volunteers’ interaction with young adults, such as fragmented and short-term youth services created by neoliberal policies that the young adults struggle with.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-83
JournalJournal of Youth Development
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • volunteer work, young adults, invisible work, need for support, Finland

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