Mark and Monika Heller met twenty years ago as volunteers for a children’s charity. Since then, their common value to give back has fed the dream they both grew to share. The Handshake Foundation. Monika is a thirty year veteran in the international trade business industry and current CEO of Jet Airways of the US, Inc. a truck brokerage for international airlines. Mark J. Heller is a seasoned businessman with over thirty years of experience in the Entertainment and Marketing world. Over the span of his career, Mark has been connected to high level entertainment brands, corporate initiatives, advertising, publicity, transportation, trade, publishing and technology professionals. While building a thriving marketing business, Mark never forgot the value of the mentorship he received while in school. As a way of paying it forward, Mark has always given his time, energy and experience back to the youth of his community.
He started mentoring kids during his days as a starving student at UCLA where he mentored and coached kids for the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation. Upon graduating and embarking on his career, his commitment to help our youth continued. While at Paramount Pictures as Director of Production in the motion picture marketing department, Mark leveraged his experience to start and manage a youth mentoring program for young filmmakers in the Santa Clarita Area called the Clarita Awards. He headed the program for three years. Participating students came to practical workshops every Saturday for eight weeks to learn the craft of storytelling and filmmaking. Various experts in the field donated their time to come in and mentor the classes and share industry insights. The founding program has since grown into the Santa Clarita Film Festival.
Mark and Monika’s youngest daughter was born three months premature. At only two pounds, the doctors gave her a slim chance of survival. With nothing in their control, prayers and promises were the only hope. Emily was cared for at the Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys California, one of the best neonatal units in Southern California. After three months, she eventually went home, but the promises made to give back to the staff and the hospital, prompted Mark and Monika to create a Christmas book to help the hospital and other children’s charities.
Photos from the book giveaway at the Toberman House December 2013. The Dear Santa Letter Collection, was created and pulled from over 10,000 real letters from kids to Santa with permission from the USPS. Since that time, the book has raised thousands of dollars to support national children’s charity organizations.
Mark’s coaching and mentoring aligned with his passion for golf when he was accepted as a coach for the First Tee of South Los Angeles. The First Tee program is a national organization of mentors and coaches using golf as the vehicle to instill life skills and core values in kids 8-17 years old. He devoted two years working with kids to bring them into the game and learn a few life lessons along the way. An opportunity was presented during his work with the First Tee program to coach a newly forming High School golf team at Rolling Hills Preparatory School. Mark just completed his fourth year at the school. Since starting at the high school, Mark has instructed and mentored the team. The seed was planted early in his team players with the fruit bearing 100% college acceptance with sports scholarship grants awarded to three of his students. It was here that Mark and Monika got their inspiration to formalize, The Handshake Foundation. Currently, Mark is involved with the Education committee at his synagogue, mentoring young teens on core values and being good world citizen.
Mark, at RHP graduation 2012, with his college bound golf mentee, Charlie Bland
Mark and Monika aspire to take the lessons and leverage the contacts they have made over the years and pay them forward through continued support of education among our youth. Today, they have taken the first steps by establishing, The Handshake Foundation. They envision an organization that supports educational aspirations through mentoring of young men and women toward their passion. Their collective pool of business associates, educators and adult mentors come from years of contacts and associations. Their backgrounds and experience are varied, but their hearts are in, paying it forward. Currently, they The Handshake Foundation provides a pool of quality mentors to schools, children’s charities, youth centers and community support groups reaching over 7,000 young people in Southern California through established strategic partnerships.
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.
–Henry David Thoreau