It's more than just charity that drives Rev. Paul Giersz to reach out to addicts through Lamplighter Bible Church in Roselle.
After years of struggling himself with drugs and alcohol, his work is intensely personal, too.
A Glendale Heights native, Giersz, was a golf and baseball star at Glenbard North High School. After graduating in 1980, he pursued both sports at College of DuPage, eventually earning a full ride to Illinois State University.
Giersz even became the university's first baseball captain to come from a junior college.
"In high school, I was the guy, at Illinois State I was the guy; I always kind of had notoriety," Giersz said. "When baseball was over, I felt I didn't really have an identity.
"Unfortunately, I found my identity in some of the local bars and nightclubs. They knew my car, they knew my drink, and I felt like I was somebody again."
Soon Giersz was getting fired from various country clubs where he worked as a golf pro, as bosses caught on to his alcohol and cocaine abuse. Eventually he found ways to make money in the places he knew best: local bars. Giersz said that environment further fueled his addiction and alienated everyone but his parents.
Desperate, and in his early 30s, Giersz called on an old drinking buddy who had sobered up.
"After we met for dinner, we sat in my driveway and I said 'What am I going to do? I can't drink anymore, but I don't like being sober,'" said Giersz. "And my friend said 'Why don't you go into your house and ask Jesus Christ for help?' And I did. Point blank, a miracle happened."
Giersz said he never drank or used drugs from that moment on, and that's what inspired him to return to school to study theology with the online, Missouri-based Global University and become a minister. Three years later, he married his wife, Laura.
After working for New Life Assembly of God in Bloomingdale and another Christian church and school in Baton Rouge, La., Giersz founded Lamplighter church in Roselle in 2006.
And on Sunday, the church will host a fundraiser for its recovery ministry, dubbed "Surrender and Win," as well as "Lifeline Ministries," which helps the homeless in DuPage County.
The daylong event starts at 10:45 a.m. and features a worship service, a petting zoo and children's activities, and a keynote speech by J.D. Hill, a former NFL receiver for the Buffalo Bills who, like Giersz, struggled with addiction after his career ended.
The event aims to raise money for two of the church's goals. First, Giersz wants to expand Lifeline Ministries, which runs on Tuesdays from September through May. During those months, the program aims to supplement the overnight program DuPage Public Action to Deliver Shelter, or PADS; Lamplighter's van drives by the PADS sites as the program ends at 7 a.m. and brings clients to the Roselle church until 2 p.m. While there, they receive breakfast and lunch, join Bible study, complete chores and are able to access counseling, phones, clothing and a computer.
Next fall, the program will have a doctor on site. But Giersz said he hopes the fundraiser will allow Lamplighter to expand the program to two or three days per week.
Other proceeds will benefit Surrender and Win, which draws up to 45 people with "any life-controlling problem" to the church each week, Giersz said. Their problems include drugs, alcohol, shopping and sex addiction, he said.
The church's goal is to raise enough funds to buy, lease or rent a house in DuPage for the program.
"Ending addiction doesn't happen for most people the way it happened for me," said Giersz. "The only way I can describe it is a divine experience. But we want a home that will help transition those men and women back to their lives."