SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. (STMW) – A 19-year-old man who volunteered for a program assisting children with special needs at a northwest suburban megachurch has been charged with sexually abusing one of those children.
Robert Sobczak was a volunteer in the Special Friends program at the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington when he allegedly fondled an 8-year-old boy in the program in February, according to Cook County prosecutors.
Sobczak, of the 3900 block of Whispering Trail in Hoffman Estates, was arrested Friday and charged with one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, a Class 2 felony, according to Cook County State’s Attorney’s office spokeswoman Lisa Gordon.
“The victim was in the program on Feb. 17 when the offender removed him from the classroom and took him to a separate room alone. He then fondled the victim,” she said, citing court records.
The Special Friends Ministry provides care for children with special needs — physical, emotional or behavioral — while their parents are in church, and includes both paid staff and volunteer workers, Willow Creek spokeswoman Heather Larson said.
She said it was the church that notified authorities when the allegations against Sobczak, a volunteer aide with the program since August 2012, came to light.
“The child informed their mother, who spoke to a church volunteer,” Larson said. “We called DCFS immediately and spoke to the accused volunteer, who denied the allegations but did admit to breaking the church policy of one-on-one contact with a child. DCFS then notified police” as part of their investigation.
She said the church has a training program for volunteers that stresses no solo interaction with children. When Sobczak admitted to being alone with a child, he was “immediately removed from the position,” Larson said.
On Saturday, Sobczak was ordered held on a $100,000 bond. His next court appearance is set for May 31 in Rolling Meadows, Gordon said.
Willow Creek Church at 67 E. Algonquin Rd. in South Barrington has an average attendance of around 18,000, according to spokeswoman Susan DeLay, who said she did not believe Sobczak had been a member of the church before becoming a volunteer with Special Friends last summer.
She said the hiring process involves a background check through a national data base, interviews and reference checks, as well as a search of the state’s sex offender registry. She said Sobczak was cleared through each process.
After the allegations came to light, all church staff and volunteers were reminded and retrained in the “vigorous child protection policy,” DeLay said.
No other allegations against Sobczak have been made, and there have never been allegations against any other church staff or volunteers, she said.
“We were deeply saddened to hear about the arrest, and will do all we can for this child and this family,” Larson said. “We are cooperating with police and will do all we can to assist.”
South Barrington police refused to comment on the arrest.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)