Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan — Bobby Manheim of Atlanta and his white faced capuchin therapy monkey, Dr. Irving poses for portrait after entertaining Mill Creek High School special-needs students during a social event for the Best Buddies Club in Hoschton on Wednesday. The Best Buddies Club at Mill Creek consists of 15 students with special-needs known as Little Buddies and about 50 student mentors known as Big Buddies.
Monkey helps special needs students
Mill Creek High School’s Best Buddies Club hosted Bobby Manheim and Dr. Irving (a monkey) who entertained a group of special-needs students.
HOSCHTON -- When a high school group that promotes long-lasting friendships between exceptional students comes together with a man who rescued a primate and spreads goodwill, the combination is unique.
That was the situation Wednesday when Mill Creek High School's Best Buddies Club hosted Bobby Manheim and Dr. Irving, who entertained a group of special-needs students.
Best Buddies -- which defines "exceptional" as being a compassionate, loving and loyal friend -- is in its third year at Mill Creek and meets monthly.
"The best part of the Best Buddies program is that it brings special-needs students with the rest of the students," said Julie Lanphear, who works with special education students at Mill Creek. "They learn unconditional love and friendship while participating in fun and age-appropriate activities."
This month's meeting brought Manheim and his unusual entertainment to the high school, where Manheim spoke about his life and working with the world's only primate providing therapy with special-needs children and adults.
Manheim rescued the white-faced capuchin monkey nearly 20 years ago while recovering from back surgery after a serious automobile accident and was unable to walk for months.
The tiny 1'7", 10-pound monkey had previously been confined in a small cage and experts said he would never socialize.
But Manheim thought differently.
After rescuing the monkey and working with it for 90 days, Manheim had nothing to show except scratches and bites.
But Dr. Irving (named for Manheim's former dentist) suddenly settled down and gave Manheim a hug and a kiss on Day 91.
That was the lift Manheim needed to walk again and the former photojournalist hasn't stopped spreading his message about inspiration and caring for one another.
"I was pretty down about how everything had happened," Manheim told the group at Mill Creek. "But having Dr. Irving around changed my life. Now I am able to go around to hospitals, rehab centers and treatment facilities where we have worked with thousands of patients. We are about spreading the message of unconditional love and we're doing that today with special-needs students."
Lanphear first heard and saw Manheim, who calls Atlanta home, during a comedy show and thought he would be a great inspiration for her students.
So the connection was made and Manheim brought his act to the high school.
"Bobby is a great story because he didn't give up on the monkey and we shouldn't give up on each other," said Lanphear, who is a Best Buddies' sponsor along with Ashley Farrington. "This is an education for all of us. We don't give up on each other and we don't give up on our students. Love, support and encouragement are important aspects of what we do and Bobby displays all those."
Manheim and Dr. Irving will continue to visit churches, hospitals, senior living homes and charity functions.
But Manheim hopes he and Dr. Irving will become a regular stop at other schools around the area working and reaching out to special-needs students.
"They are special, we need to understand," said Manheim. "I have found that I learn more from these people with special needs than they learn from us. Being nice to someone makes everyone feel good."