About Us

Our service monkeys are provided at no cost to our recipients.

History

Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers has grown from an innovative idea into a successful, national nonprofit organization that offers independence and hope to individuals living with mobility impairments. Since 2006, Executive Director Megan Talbert has overseen all aspects of the organization: monkey training, monkey health care, animal retirement, recipient applications, new placement, active placement, and the youth education program.

Co-founded by M.J. Willard, Ed.D and Judi Zazula, M.S., OTR/L in Boston, MA, Helping Hands placed its first monkey helper in 1979. That monkey, named Hellion, served as a helper and companion to Robert Foster, a Boston man living with paralysis, for more than 28 years until Robert passed away in 2007.

In 1982, Helping Hands became a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization under the IRS code. From the beginning, Helping Hands’ mission has been to provide service animals to adults living with mobility impairments as a result of an accident, injury, or disease. Developmental grant funding from the National Science Foundation, the Veterans Administration, and from the Paralyzed Veterans of America supported the program’s initial research and development stage (which ended in 1989). During its first decade, Helping Hands investigated and designed all of the components of the program—from determining which species of monkey was best suited for this work to the kinds of tasks the human recipients would need, and finally to the best methods for teaching tasks to the service monkeys.

In the 1990s, outreach efforts and coverage of our service monkeys in the media helped bring Helping Hands to the attention of the national public, and private donations began to replace the government funding that ended in 1994. Grants from private foundations, gifts from individual donors, and income from special events became a major source of support for Helping Hands. Workplace giving, especially by federal employees giving through the Combined Federal Campaign, also supports our mission.

In response to changing technology, training protocols improved and were refined as new tasks have replaced the old. Service monkeys are now taught to turn on computers and load DVD players, while the art of placing a record on a turntable has passed out of the repertoire. As the range of tasks taught in training grew larger, so too did Helping Hands’ ability to assist people with a wider spectrum of mobility impairments.

In 1999, Helping Hands undertook the search for a permanent and specially modified home for its training center. The Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation Center (also known as The Monkey College) officially opened in 2004. The mortgage and ongoing maintenance of The Monkey College marked a significant investment for Helping Hands and to this day represent a large part of our annual financial expenses.

Today, under the strategic guidance of our board of directors, Helping Hands continues to refine, improve, and broaden the many ways in which we pursue our unique mission.