A Focus on Member Programming with JoEllen Zembruski-Ruple
ICS Director of Member Programs JoEllen Zembruski-Ruple C.T.R.S., a recent addition to ICS, worked to kick off the ICS Virtual Social Program, which was designed to promote participation in social, physical, educational and recreational activities among members who have been isolated in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then, JoEllen has been instrumental in launching several additional programs, including a new Lifestyle Enrichment Series in partnership with LIU Brooklyn’s School of Health Professions. ICS has also partnered with the world-class Juilliard School of Performing Arts to bring members Curtains Up: A Community and Culture Program. Curtains Up will bring talented musicians into the homes of members for several nights of performances and real-time interaction beginning Thursday, October 28.
JoEllen, who has a wealth of experience in creating and implementing programs and events, was formerly Chief of Therapeutic Recreation at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Director of Rehabilitation and Wellness as well as Manager of Healthcare Provider Engagement at The National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
ICS recently spoke with JoEllen about ICS’ new programs, her years of expertise, and what members can expect on the horizon.
You’ve almost made a year at ICS! How has your experience been?
It’s been a great experience. When I was at The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, I was a partner of ICS for 20 years. In a way, it was my foray into becoming a staff member at ICS. It’s been an interesting experience learning the internal and external workings of the organization.
What’s stood out the most to you about the organization?
The level of dedication, and the organization’s mission to really empower individuals living with disabilities to live their best lives.
You have a vast experience creating and directing innovative programs in health and wellness institutions and community service organizations. What’s your goal for ICS?
With my skills and expertise, we want to enhance offerings and empower people living with disabilities. My whole career has been focused on creating programs from the ground up. With my clinical experience, I worked in a rehab setting to assist people with disabilities through trauma and to help them return to their community life. At the MS Society, the focus was helping people with disabilities with impairments that were ever changing. At ICS, we want short term and outcome-based programs that focus on improving health and wellness, as well as general, social and leisure lifestyle-based programs. Eventually, we want to get to larger scale programs and events too, from movie and party events.
Our virtual programs are connecting people and they’re slowly growing in capacity. I’d like to maintain a presence in the virtual world. Hybrid programs that can be both online and in-person, I think, will help members with an enriched lifestyle while maintaining physical, mental and emotional wellness.
You’ve collaborated with universities, medical centers, and community groups for programming. How important are partnerships?
The only way to be viable is through connections and partnerships. This will only benefit our membership in these lifestyle enrichment and physical wellness programs. NYC has an absolute wealth of expertise and amazing professionals who would love to work with ICS and our members. I’ve already managed to bring over my connections with university and field placements and am excited to establish additional new relationships.
It’s been wonderful connecting with members, and hearing their interests and what our programs have meant to them. Working with ICS leadership and partners in the community to bring quality programs to members has been rewarding.
How have programs been received?
The institutions that are new to ICS that I’ve connected with, from LIU Brooklyn to Juilliard School of Performing Arts, have been excited and welcoming. They’ve embraced the partnership. Members who have been in lockdown have been extremely happy with the programs. This is meaningful to me because it allows them to have a place to go.
What’s important is that our newer programs are benefiting members twofold. You have Take Charge of Your Body and Rest and Resilience, which are geared to improving the health and overall wellbeing of members through exercise, healthy recipes, and relaxation techniques to battle anxiety. But they also allow members to be social, which is critical. We’re helping members who want to take a more active role in their health, and in the process, they’re feeling connected.
What can members look forward to for the rest of 2021?
We know members want in-person programs to return, but we have to remain cautious and follow COVID-19 prevention practices to ensure for their safety. What I think is important for members to know is that though in-person programming is on pause, those programs that members are so used to, and enjoy attending in person, are not going away. We are committed to preserving those programs—from the educational to the arts. In terms of the rest of this year, new members are signing up for online programs, and we couldn’t be happier. We are here to support and enhance their lives. These programs are not my programs, they’re our programs. This is about bringing members together and to foster opportunities for our members to live their best, healthiest lives.
About The Independent
The Independent is ICS’ official newsletter, featuring the latest stories around ICS, its members and staff, as well as news on what’s happening in the disability community at large.