News About 12Plus1

Dear Friends,

I am writing to tell you that 12plus1 is suspending our operations. After two years of recruiting, we simply do not have enough candidates. First I owe a debt of gratitude to all who have supported 12plus1 financially, spiritually, marketing, developing the program, interviewing and selecting candidates, volunteering and offering encouragement. All of you made a special and important contribution. Second, I want to reaffirm my belief that the essence of faith is service to one another. There is too much evidence that even the most fervent and faith-filled individuals have lost this core tenant. If we are unable to show respect to one another, our prayers and piety are empty. St. Paul would refer to this as a banging gong. Even if you are not a person of faith, it seems abundantly evident that society is becoming louder, more self-centered and less interested in kindness and decency. Every human being is deserving of respect and dignity. I had hoped this ministry would promote those values.

This is also why we are suspending the organization and NOT dissolving the 501c3 organization. I have not given up hope or my belief that service and justice will prevail. Perhaps this was simply not the correct format, but my belief that God is calling me to invest in working to heal the divisions that exist between races, religions, gender and socio-economic groups remains strong. Finding a way to show others that tolerance and caring for people whose ideas and values are different than yours is not a threat to you seems vitally important today. At the moment, I am simply not sure what form that takes.

I also want to thank Maribeth and my family. The past two years we made a commitment that cost us financially, emotionally, at times spiritually and even physically, by hauling our goods from convention to convention. One lesson I learned is that one does not start their own business by themselves. It involves your entire family whether they like it or not. My income the past two years was about a third of what I had been previously making. All of us had to do without things we were used to having. Never once did I hear complaints or frustration. I am grateful for that support.

Finally, I have two requests for you. First, I hope to be able to continue my part-time leadership of the Adult Literacy Center of Ozaukee County, but certainly need to find additional work. Please let me know if you come across a role you think would fit my skills and passion to make a positive impact in the lives of others. Secondly, 12plus1 has about $1000 in bills that need to be paid. If you feel moved to make a tax deductible contribution to allow 12plus1 to move onto the next stage, all of us at 12plus1 would be grateful.

I hope that we remain in contact. Thank you and may God bless you.

Joe Nettesheim, Director


Taylor spent a year in Aberdeen, Washington with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Part of his experience was to serve in a parish and also help in meal program. He speaks about the fear of entering into an experience like this, how success is based on the ability to be open, have a willingness to learn and to live in the moment.

I came in thinking I knew how things were going to be ... one of the biggest things I learned was listening to other people’s experiences and wisdom... that was one of my struggles . . . my experience showed how much we learned from the community and from the people we served and that was a big area of growth.
— Taylor Baar, Service Year Participant
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Kimberly Van Beek is a Development Associate at Cristo Rey Jesuit school in Milwaukee. She graduated from UW -Whitewater and then spent one year working before she became a service year volunteer in Pittsburgh through the Change a Heart. In this video she shares the life-changing impact of saying yes and being open. She was changed by her service and community.

It was a year of my life that I feel like I was authentically able to be myself.
— Kimberly VanBeek, Service Year Participant
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Laura Hancock is a Theology teacher at Messmer High School. After college she participated in a faith and service based gap experience in Denver, Colorado through the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. n this video she shares the life-changing impact of her service year. It influenced her career, faith, friendships- every aspect of her life. We hope you will consider participating in an extraordinary experience like a gap year.

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The commitment to social justice and te engagement with real life, community issues was a way of living faith that I had never experienced before.
— Laura Hancock, Service Year Participant


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The conversation began like many others I had with conference attendees.  As I promoted 12plus1 we discussed the mission, purpose and details of the program.  Then Ali asked me an unexpected question.  Pointing at our banner she asked, “Is that a picture of the Discovery House participants?”  I cringed.  As a new program, it has been necessary to use stock photos.  It is not ideal.  Many stock photos look staged and somewhat fake.  It has been a source of worry for me.  As I explained this to Ali, something told me to ask her why she noticed the banner.  She was the first person to mention the picture.  Ali told me it caught her attention because the banner had a picture of diverse people. She went on to share how this particular conference was a challenge for her because it lacked diversity.  She was being generous.  It wasn’t that it lacked diversity, it was almost 100% white.  Before Ali had approached our booth, I had noticed the lack of diversity. Perhaps it was because the previous conference I attended was proud of the fact that more than half of their attendees were people of color.  Imagine being at a large event where you are one of a handful of people of your gender, ethnicity or age.  Imagine again if this fictitious event did not have any people who looked like you on their publicity materials, did not include any speakers who have shared your experience or addressed issues you face.  Imagine further, that this conference is sponsored by a Church and designed to help you foster your relationship with God.  What message would this send about their perception of who God welcomes and loves?  This is the conversation that Ali and I had.  A white, (almost) fifty-year-old man talking with a young, black college woman about race.  It is not what I expected my experience would be.  Unfortunately, she was not the only person to express her concerns about the lack of diversity.  Happily, it was a rewarding, barrier breaking, consciousness raising, spiritual experience. God was there, it was holy ground and like Moses at the burning bush, God was calling me to speak to you about this experience. 

Later that evening Ali returned with Cynthia and Nick.  They hung out at the booth playing Jenga and the conversation about race continued.  It was obvious to me that this was not the first time these young people felt left out or diminished because of their ethnicity.  It appears to be an almost routine experience for them.  Over the course of the conference they stopped by from time to time.  On one visit they told me that another young black man was also alarmed by the lack of people of color at this event.  As he met others, he asked them for their contact info.  He took the initiative to gather this group for lunch.  It was a group of 30.  The conference had 17,000 attendees.  Nick told me he felt so diminished by this conference that he spent one entire day in his hotel room.  There was simply nothing there for him and he considered leaving.  I am not sure why he didn’t.

On another occasion, I took a break from my booth and walked to a nearby Starbucks when I encountered a homeless man.  As we were speaking, a young woman who was attending the conference stopped and gave him water and a granola bar.  Her thoughtfulness and generosity were impressive.  We walked together to the Starbucks.  As we drank our coffee, she shared her wisdom with me:  why do we predetermine that if you are homeless you are crazy, incapable of making a good decision? She suggested: the decision to help is on you; what they do with your help is on them.  Further she said when she encounters a homeless person, she asks them their name as a way to humanize them. How often do we ask a homeless person their name?  As we discussed our successes and failures in trying to help others and feelings of hypocrisy, I was struck by her charisma and character.  She stood tall!  And it was about then that our conversation took a turn.  As it happens, she is also a person of color and shared an experience of the conference that was similar to Ali’s.  She stated that she was struggling to find value in it because it was not speaking to her life experience as a black woman.  Marie was incredibly open with me.  Growing up in a biracial family in a primarily white environment, she has been very conscious of her speech, going to lengths to make sure she spoke like a white person.  Mentioning that the people she has looked up to are Oprah, Michele Obama and Beyoncé, her wish was that she personally knew a strong black woman.  Often during high school class discussions about race, her peers would look to her to be the one spokesperson for all black people.  Upon the start of the next semester she planned to join the black student group at her college hoping she might have her first black friend.

The pressure in school I feel to be outstanding is compounded by the pressure I feel as a black person to defy the stereotypes of stupidity. Every time I accomplish something worthwhile in hopes to eradicate the stereotype, my success is accredited to my whiteness. Every time I exemplify black excellence, I’m disassociated from my blackness, as if success and blackness are mutually exclusive in society’s eyes.
— Marie, Conference Participant

These conversations and visits occurred over a few days.  First, please do not feel sad for these young people.  They are not looking for sympathy.  They do not need sadness.  What they want is inclusion.

Personally, I have spent the past month discerning how God is speaking to me through these relationships.  Often my default is to try and fix problems.  I want to make others happy.  There is no way one person can fix hundreds of years of racial injustice and end the racial division in our country.  What I did do was listen.  What I can do with what I heard is share their story with you.  It is not lost on me that it is likely that the majority of people who read this blog will be white.  I have to tell you we have a lot of work to do.  Most people I know are not racists.  But many of us, me included, are too comfortable to adjust our way of thinking and being.  If racial unity is going to come about, we cannot be lazy and fearful of others.  Trying to hold on to our place is not the answer. Racial harmony and inclusion will demand a willingness to change and be open.  For those of us who live in Milwaukee there is a sense of urgency about this change.  According to a study released by the Brookings Institute, on December 17, 2018 Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the United States.

My experience for most of my professional life has been that most of the committees I have served on in the parish or Archdiocesan level have been made up of all white people. Even when I was on the leadership team for the service week was made up of entirely white people. I remember once visiting a high school that was the majority of black students to promote this summer camp. The questions we were asked were what color is the cook, what is the menu, who are the leaders? What they were really asking was does this program have a sensitivity to their cultural experience? The fact is- despite our best intentions and efforts- it did not

For over two-hundred years the culture of the United States has been directed by and focused around white people. We have had every seat at the table.  The problem is, it is not our table.  The table belongs to God and God expects us to make room for everyone.  Therefore, those currently sitting at the table have a moral imperative to create space for everyone. If you are already sitting at the table you have a choice: you can claim your territory, create roadblocks, become defensive and cling to what you think is yours or you can move chairs, pick up your papers, maybe even add a leaf or two so that everyone has a place.  Clinging to what is yours is a belief in a philosophy of scarcity.  It is a mindset that says there is not enough. It is the mindset that says I worked hard for what I have and if I share it, I will lose it.  I must protect what I have.  The opposite is a mindset of abundance. It is a mindset that is open and trusting.  It does not cling to routine or is threatened by change.  It views change and new people as an opportunity to learn, grow and become a stronger more unified community.  It trusts that God will always provide and take care of us.  There will be enough to go around.  For a scripture reference please see:  Loaves and Fishes.  Racial unity cannot occur if we rest on the idea that I have worked hard for my chair and my place at the table why do I have to share it now?  Working hard does not provide us the right to ignore the rights of others.  Apathy and indifference are the equivalence of bigotry.

The new racism: Racism without ‘racists.’ Today, racial segregation and division often result from habits, policies, and institutions that are not explicitly designed to discriminate. Contrary to popular belief, discrimination or segregation do not require animus. They thrive even in the absence of prejudice or ill will. It’s common to have racism without racists.
— Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Gathering everyone around the table makes us stronger.  It gives us an opportunity to develop relationships with one another.  Inclusivity does not mean thinking the same or being the same.  It does mean having an appreciation for others and recognizing the value of their opinion, experience and perspective.  It demonstrates an understanding that God has made all people- white, yellow, black, red, brown, blue, purple and magenta.  This is why I am suggesting that we need to be open to the necessary change to bring about racial harmony and unity.  Listen to the stories of others, be open to their experience, be aware of your words, do not become defensive, let go, be open, move your chair, adjust your papers, make a conscious and intentional choice to ensure no one is excluded.    This is what needs to be done by the organization that put on the conference.  It needs to be done in our Church.  It needs to be done in our country. 

And it needs to be done by 12plus1.  My purpose for attending the conference was to promote 12plus1.  I had no idea of the conversations that would occur.  It became clear to me that God was calling me through this experience.  As I reflect these are the questions I am trying to resolve:

  • How does 12plus1 ensure a diverse community of participants (racial, gender, age, religious)? 

  • How do we develop a leadership team that reflects the diversity we desire? What strategies are employed in the community, service sites and formation day to ensure all people feel welcome? 

  • Discovery House is geared for individuals ages 18-24.  How has our planning included the insights and perspectives of young adults? 

We want Discovery House to reflect the stock photo that caught Ali’s attention.  It will take conscious choices and intentional actions to make this happen. 

I invite you to consider and pray about how you can make your world more diverse and inclusive.  It starts with listening and building relationships. If you are not in a place where you ever interact with people of another color or race, take the initiative to get there!  Look for a multicultural church, find organizations that promote racial harmony.  You will be enriched.   Everyone knows what it feels like to be left out.  Let’s be especially conscious not to allow that to happen to others by ensuring their place at the table. This is how we will seek and find racial harmony. Let us pray for the guidance of God’s Spirit:


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Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1.  He has worked in Church ministry since 1991 having led mission experiences for youth, adults and families. He also been an Executive Director for nonprofit organizations. You may contact Joe


There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?
— George Bernard Shaw

Those of us at 12plus1 have a dream.  We imagine a world that is unified, compassionate, empathetic, accepting, peaceful and just.  It isn’t just a dream.  We believe we have a program that will contribute to making that happen.  We want to make that happen.  Who doesn’t?  What if we lived in a world that understood EVERY human being is a child of God and has a right to thrive and flourish?  This is the mission of 12plus1 and the recipe to make this dream a reality involves service, community, faith and love.  12plus1 presents: Discovery House, a service-based gap experience for participants ages 18-24, that will address the most challenging issues in society.  Imagine the positive impact a contingent of people who commit to service, while living in community and rooted in a life of reflection, would make to Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin!



Imagine the difference a team of committed volunteers would offer non-profit organizations working to make Milwaukee a better place.  12plus1 is working with non-profits who are serving those impacted by abuse, addiction, homelessness, human trafficking, imprisonment, poverty, racism and violence. Unfortunately, Milwaukee is one of the most racially segregated cities in the country with an extremely high infant mortality rate.  This service opportunity strives to bring people together to lessen this reality.  Service is a tool to establish a mutual exchange of gifts.  It is difficult to dismiss a suffering person when we know their name and their story.  Imagine a society that would compassionately respond to the needs of others because we recognize that when one person suffers, we all suffer. 


Discovery House    is a service-based gap experience for individuals ages 18-24. Participants can select a ten-month, five-month or month long commitment. The program is based on service, community and formation.

Discovery House is a service-based gap experience for individuals ages 18-24. Participants can select a ten-month, five-month or month long commitment. The program is based on service, community and formation.

Imagine a group of volunteers living simply in a Christian based community.  This community will present a unique opportunity for personal growth.  Members of the community will be responsible for the management of the house such as: cleaning, cooking, budgeting, shopping, and conflict resolution. These are skills some may take for granted, but they are not passed on as readily as they once were.   Imagine a generation who is able to adapt, be authentic, resolve conflict, provide creative solutions and express their faith and values in a rapidly changing culture. 



Imagine an opportunity for participants to synthesize and integrate these experiences into their own lives.  All volunteers participate in weekly formation sessions and meet monthly with a mentor.  During their reflection times they will have an opportunity to dive into deep human questions, learn about social issues and apply Gospel values.  Mentor meetings will focus on identifying strengths and limits while discerning their academic and professional future.  Imagine a workplace filled with a contingent of focused, mission-driven, servant leaders. 


Discovery House will be a life changing experience.  Participants will gain focus and purpose which will influence their professional and academic goals. They will complete the experience having grown in faith, character, integrity, leadership ability, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution. They will be compassionate and empathetic.  They will approach life with flexibility and authenticity.  Imagine the difference they will make to their families, friends, colleagues, and those who are suffering. 


We have an active imagination and although we are starting local, in Milwaukee, the dream is big!  Imagine a national movement that encourages (requires?) young people to spend a year serving others.  Imagine how this could bridge the socio-economic, racial, gender, religious, political divides.  Perhaps human nature is such that this may be an impossible dream; but it is a noble dream!  It is dream that is worth pursuing and will not be denied by those who prefer negativity over hope and imagination!   It is a dream that needs you.  Even if this ministry only moves society one fraction toward this dream, imagine the impact that fraction would make.  Imagine our country with a force of young adults who, long after their service commitment, have a heart that is passionately dedicated to service and the civic good.

You may say I am a dreamer,
But I am not the only one.
I hope someday you will join us and
The world will be as one
— John Lennon

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Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1.  He has worked in Church ministry for twenty five years in the area of adult and youth formation and service learning.  He has also been an Executive Director for nonprofit organizations. You may contact Joe

Profiles of Gap Year Participants

Over the past eighteen months those of us involved in 12plus1 have spoken to many people about the gap year experience. Since a gap experience is a new option in the United States, we are often asked who is your target audience? Here are some profiles of individuals who are considering a gap experience or for whom a gap experience would have been helpful. Every summary is based on an amalgam of a few people with similar stories. This was done to conceal the identity of any one person and to present the wide variety of experiences we have encountered. The more people we have encountered, the more we are certain that this ministry is needed.






Discovery House    is a service-based gap experience for individuals ages 18-24. Participants can select a ten-month, five-month or month long commitment. The program is based on service, community and formation.

Discovery House is a service-based gap experience for individuals ages 18-24. Participants can select a ten-month, five-month or month long commitment. The program is based on service, community and formation.






The path of high school to college to work is not for everyone.  It is a myth to think that everyone follows that route.  In fact, only 60% of high school graduates who go onto college finish their degree in six years.  This means that 40% of students who enter college are left seeking an alternate path, often with large amounts of debt.  It is our belief that 12plus1 could help them discern their professional and academic future in an organized and purposeful way while making a positive and significant impact to society. 

We know that our gap experiences will allow participants to:

  • Make a positive impact on the community

  • Discover their authentic selves

  • Become servant leaders

  • Develop soft skills such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, flexibility and adaptability and self-reliance

  • Discern their academic and professional future

  • Deepen their relationship with God


Here is how you can support this new ministry:

  • Invite a young adult to consider a gap experience

  • Spread the word to your church, civic groups and business colleagues

  • Provide a financial gift to 12plus1

  • Join our mailing list and social media network. 

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Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1.  He has worked in Church ministry for twenty five years in the area of adult and youth formation and service learning.  He has also been an Executive Director for nonprofit organizations. You may contact Joe