Volunteer Coordinator and Program Facilitator at
Step by Step of Rochester, Inc.
By Ashley Cooper | photo by rita laveck
In the average human experience, most of us understand the phenomenon that occurs when others seem to know us better than we know ourselves. In the experience of Natalia Lopuchowycz, a professor’s intuition made all the difference.
Lopuchowycz, a Bloomfield native, had other ideas for her future when offered an internship position at Step by Step of Rochester, a wholly owned subsidiary of VOA of WNY that provides an abundance of services for women who are or were are at risk of being incarcerated. Knowing that Lopuchowycz’s unique life experience, doubled with her naturally altruistic personality would allow her to be an invaluable asset to the organization, a Nazareth professor insisted Lopuchowycz “give it an open chance”. Trusting her instincts, Lopuchowycz reluctantly accepted the position.
The decision couldn’t have been more right. It’s been two years since Lopuchowycz walked through the doors of Step by Step as an intern. She is now an employee of Step by Step, serving as both a program facilitator and volunteer coordinator, and maintains that the ‘career choice’ proves to be more rewarding with each passing day. “I’m lucky,” she says. “I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have a job like this.”
“Helping other women going through their disconnection and their journeys, that’s what we call it—their unique journeys—has been the most life-changing and inspiring thing in my life thus far,” says Lopuchowycz humbly, “and I hope to continue! I never thought working with women was where I’d end up and here I am working with women in a Monroe County facility and now a Albion correctional facility. It changed my life. And with Step by Step, that’s what it’s supposed to do. The organization really fostered a really great opportunity for me and I think wonderful things have been happening.”
Also responsible for marketing and outreach for Step by Step, Lopuchowycz takes all that has been entrusted to her seriously. She seizes every opportunity to raise awareness about the strides Step by Step has made in aiding women in prison. Lopuchowycz also earnestly scouts potential volunteers—women in the community that might have something to offer the population at Step by Step. Whether the volunteer shows expertise in a certain arena, such as in finances, and can share her wisdom with others or simply has remarkable insight that stems from her own history—Step by Step welcomes volunteers from all walks of life who have the potential to make a difference.
“Nobody comes into social work without a story,” says Lopuchowycz, who is no exception. Left a single mother at the age of 19, Lopuchowycz was determined to triumph over her circumstances. In six years, Lopuchowycz attained her Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice from Finger Lakes Community College and her Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work at Nazareth College.
You might also have seen her serving coffee as a Starbucks shift supervisor at Victor Cobblestone, where customers know her as, “Smiley.”
The moniker suits her well. Lopuchowycz is all smiles, even in the midst of her personal challenges. And for good reason, the light of her life is her son Carter, 6. “We’re a team,” she stresses, “I often think ‘thank heavens’ that I had him because he’s my biggest motivator, if anybody can inspire anybody here…I have a lot to thank him for.”