Each summer, dozens of high school and college students join Resident Summer Staff at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, but one couple found a lasting connection while working there.
Michael and Kelsey (O’Neal) Kulick met while serving as Resident Summer Staff in 2018. Both were working as lifeguards and began dating before the summer ended. Engagement and wedding planning followed, and Kelsey added a surprise.
Because Michael’s family includes several hearing-impaired individuals, Kelsey learned her vows in American Sign Language and signed them as she spoke them to Michael at the wedding.
Kelsey worked with Michael’s aunt, who recorded herself signing Kelsey’s vows. Kelsey used the videos to practice in the weeks leading up to the wedding.
“Nobody knew about it except me, [Michael’s] aunt, the pastor and the videographer,” Kelsey said.
Michael said his parents thought the gesture was “super sweet.”
“They kept going on and on and on about how special Kelsey is and how special that moment was for them,” he said.
Other people were moved by the moment as well. The video of Kelsey signing her vows went viral, getting more than 10 million views and more than 2 million likes on social media, which led to the couple appearing on Good Morning America.
“We never thought it would blow up like that, but we think it’s so great that we get to be a part of the ‘feel good’ news being shared,” Kelsey said.
A solid foundation
The couple credits their time at Shocco for more than just the beginning of their relationship.
“The motto that summer was to ‘build the foundation,'” Kelsey said. “That meant we needed to take that time to build up a friendship and build up a good foundation for a future relationship. We got to experience Christ through the loving relationships we saw in full-time staff members and through the nature of Shocco itself. We made lifelong friends who we still hang out with every chance we get, and we just genuinely had a great time at Shocco. Shocco shaped both of us in a major way and we are extremely thankful for everyone who poured into us during our time at Shocco.”
The Kulicks’ story is one of hundreds shared by students who have had life-changing experiences and formed lasting friendships as part of Resident Summer Staff at Shocco. Summer staff members serve a critical role as Shocco hosts more than 20,000 people each summer for camps, church retreats and nonprofit corporate events.
Summer staffers work in food and lodging services, recreation and guest relations, stepping in wherever there is a need. They receive a salary for their work, as well as free lodging and meals. But as much as Shocco relies on summer staffers to keep things going, full-time staff members also are committed to discipling the young people employed there.
“Bible study, worship and teambuilding activities at Shocco foster an environment where students can form friendships that will last long after they leave our campus,” said Blaire Butler, Shocco’s program director. “Our goal is to build an incredible community for these students and to nurture their faith while they’re here.”
Students also have the opportunity to join other Shocco staff members on a twice-yearly missions trip to El Refugio, a camp similar to Shocco located just north of Quito, Ecuador. In September, Shocco Springs Executive Director Russell Klinner led a team of nine from Shocco to El Refugio. The team helped build a cabin and joined with others to minister to and share the gospel with children in a local village.
“Missions are a big part of who we are and what we believe in, so each member of the RSS team will go on a short-term missions trip – whether to another camp in the Southeast or, if they choose, a camp in Calacali, Ecuador,” Butler said.
“We are currently praying for and seeking out Jesus-loving, servant-hearted high school and college students to join us in facilitating all the ministry that is set to take place this summer at Shocco,” she added.
More information on Resident Summer Staff at Shocco is available at shocco.org/summerstaff.