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Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Animal-Related, Animal Services, Animals, Health, Health Care, Human Services

Mission: Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers is a non-profit human services organization that helps adults with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments live more independent and engaged lives by providing them with a highly trained capuchin monkey to help with their daily, in-home tasks. The only organization of its kind, helping hands breeds, raises, and professionally trains these special service animals, carefully matching them with appropriate recipients across the nation, and provides active support and care for the duration of each placement. Since 1979, Helping Hands has raised funds to support these tax- exempt activities, so that it can provide monkey helpers to individuals in need across the country without charge to the recipients. Helping hands also offers a youth education program that teaches children about spinal cord injury, injury prevention, disability awareness, and the human animal bond.

Target demographics: Adults with Mobility Impairments

Programs: The Placement Program is a comprehensive program that includes two categories: new placement and active placement. The new placement program phase begins when we receive a written application and references. Through a deliberate and careful process that includes telephone interviews, a home visit, and a readiness assessment, we gather detailed information about each applicant. After this rigorous selection process our team matches approved applicants with monkeys in training to select the right monkey for the individual and the environment. When the final match is made, our placement team arranges to spend up to one week conducting on -site training in the recipient's home. Our staff also works closely with state officials to acquire all the appropriate permits to receive and house a helping hands service monkey. During the placement week, our placement team focuses on helping a recipient bond with his or her new monkey helper. They also conduct additional training to customize the monkey's skills to the recipient's specific needs and environment. Our staff teaches the recipient and his or her family and other caregivers about how to care for their new service animal, and about the monkey's behavioral, health, and diet needs. All modified equipment and additional supplies needed to provide for the monkey's housing and care, is given by helping hands at no charge to the recipient. During the first year of a new placement helping hands staff advisors carefully monitor progress and provide instruction to ensure the long-term success of each relationship.

Youth Education Program - since 1998, helping hands has educated thousands of children about safety and ways to help prevent spinal cord injury by bringing informative and engaging educational programs to schools, camps, and youth groups across the country. In 2012, the organization renamed the program "living permanently enabled". It is a fun and lively 30-to 45- minute presentation focusing on disability awareness, traumatic injury prevention, and the concept of being permanently enabled in one's own life. Through interactive activities, film clips, photos and questions, the organization's staff delivers a dynamic program promoting a message of resilience and awareness in an age-appropriate manner.

Training /Education program - located in the Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation Center in Boston, the monkey college pairs highly skilled, full -time trainers with monkeys to develop them into competent, reliable service animals. Every monkey is individually trained to perform daily tasks for their recipients within the home environment. These tasks include fetching dropped items(such as phone, mouth stick, and remote controls) from the floor, helping to retrieve out of reach items, loading dvds, pushing buttons on tvs and computers, opening bottles of water, turning pages of a book, scratching itches and much more. Working one-on -one, the trainer uses a laser pointer and simple words to direct the monkey's behavior. Praise, affection, and small food rewards reinforce new skills. Training is customized to each monkey's personality and abilities. At each level the tasks become more complex and the training environment becomes increasingly home-like to prepare these service animals for life in their recipient's home. In this area of the program helping hands training staff works with a rotating population of approximately 45-50 monkeys. Trainers are assisted by paid work-study students from Boston university and local volunteers who conduct husbandry care. In addition this program also includes outreach to the general public, our applicants and their families informing them of our program services.

The Retirement Program - Helping Hands coordinates supportive homes for monkeys who have entered their twilight years or who require closer medical supervision.

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