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Legendary Locals: RSM Teacher Doubles as War Hero
by: Debbie L. Sklar
Cascella has encouraged her kids to get involved with OHH.
Cascella has encouraged her kids to get involved with OHH.

Rancho Santa Margarita Spanish teacher Paula Cascella, 28, may spend most of her time teaching middle school kids a foreign language but she is also an avid supporter of helping our troops through the Marine Ministries Team and Operation Help a Hero.

Operation Help a Hero is an organization dedicated to the well-being and care of American military members. The programs support military units and families during times of crisis, deployment and need. It connects communities with service members and provides real opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those who serve our country. Every cent contributed to Operation Help a Hero is used to serve the military community, and every project is based on real need.

Cascella is St. John’s Episcopal School’s MM team leader, secretary on the board of officers for Operation Help a Hero and a school-site coordinator to the MMT and Operation Help a Hero.

The St. John’s MMT participates by supporting the Marines and Marine families at Camp Pendleton through its Pen Pal Program, Operation Christmas Spirit, Operation Barrack Presents, Operation Bedtime Story and many other events.

“The MMT has been involved in the Pen Pal program since the onset of the war in 2003. In coordination with Operation Help a Hero, we have also helped with baby showers for the pregnant wives of deployed Marines, attended banner parties to welcome troops home, collected donations and prepared barracks for ‘Welcome Home’ packages, helped with video recording and package stuffing for Operation Bedtime Story and much more,” she says.

She explains that another teacher’s students [Cindy Farnum] at St. John’s started a Pen Pal program in fall 2002 in preparation for the deployment of the First Battalion Fifth Marines in spring 2003 of which her husband was part.

“Operation Help a Hero has grown in the last 8 years and continues to expand each day, involving more and more volunteers nationwide,” she continues. “The students contribute a ton – they are involved in collecting donations, cleaning and preparing barracks rooms for the Marines’ return from deployment, helping with festivities for the families of the deployed Marines, donating their time and hard work to help others.” The project offers students and their families a chance to give back to such a worthy community.

“Being a part of Operation Help a Hero has been one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. Having the opportunity to give back and help in any way I can, is very rewarding,” she says. “Being able to make an impact and say thank you to the Marines and their families who sacrifice so much for our country.”

In her spare time, the newly engaged teacher likes working out, spending time with family and good friends

She has a degree in Latin American Studies and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later attended Chapman University to earn her California teaching credential.

In the future she hopes to support and build a Chicago Schools Chapter of Operation Help a Hero and run the Chicago Marathon in October.

To find out more information visit

Debbie L. Sklar is a 20+year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. Sklar may be reached via e-mail at

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