What is Patriotism?
It’s July, the month in which we celebrate patriotism and our country’s Independence Day, but what is patriotism anyway?
Merriam-Webster says it’s “love for or devotion to one's country.”
Wikipedia defines it to be “the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one's country.”
There’s no more vigorous support than the willingness to put one’s life on the line for our country, like our feature, Jackie Toluao, did when she served eight years in the Army. See how our local community, through the Wounded Warriors of Collier County, is helping this veteran and her children today.
Our second feature, local native Melissa Blazier, who recently stepped into the Collier County Supervisor of Elections role, exhibits love and devotion for her country by ensuring that Collier County continues to be recognized as a role model for fair and accurate election processes in the state.
And what can we all do to illustrate our patriotism? In this issue, we offer tips on how to spot and stop the spread of fake news and misinformation — a good place for each of us to start. Another way is by registering to vote, educating ourselves on the facts around candidates and issues, and then voting!
We hope this issue renews your patriotism for the country we are so fortunate to call home.
Toluao had enlisted right out of high school. Her father, a Vietnam War veteran, considered it a highly honorable career and wanted his daughter to follow in his footsteps. She had different plans until he passed away during Toluao's senior year of high school.
“I dropped everything and joined the Army,” she says. She completed her basic combat training in South Carolina and then immediately reported to Wiesbaden, Germany. Six months later, she was deployed to Iraq.
Toluao served a total of eight years in the U.S. Army, and it was a good fit. She married and had three children. Shortly after the family settled in Naples, however, Toluao unexpectedly was navigating a divorce. In December 2022, she fell behind on her rent, despite a careful budget and modest living. She was terrified of ruining her credit, and the threat of homelessness loomed.
“Naples is so expensive. Even though I have a really good job, it just isn’t enough for a single mom with three kids,” says Toluao, who has since been promoted at Mercedes-Benz of Naples. “I didn’t have anybody to turn to. I learned at a young age to bottle things up. I had to just keep on keeping on.”
Enter the Wounded Warriors of Collier County. Led by President and Founder Dale Mullin, WWCC is a volunteer-run organization that partners with 17 local agencies to assist veterans in need of housing, mental health services and other support.
Mullin, a Vietnam veteran who understands the struggles and complex issues associated with transitioning from war to home, felt service men and women were falling through VA program gaps and needed more attention and care.
Local Army veteran Jackie Toluao
Son Dylan, Melissa Blazier and her husband, Devon Blazier
FAIR AND ACCURATE ELECTIONS
The Honorable Melissa Blazier
Collier County Supervisor of Elections
by Karen Hanlon
Southwest Florida is renowned for its extraordinary attributes, including one often-overlooked feature.
We are really good at running elections.
“It's true. We conduct excellent elections in Collier County,” says Melissa Blazier, Collier County’s newly appointed supervisor of elections.
In fact, Collier County is so good at early voting, ballot tabulation and registering voters that it has been recognized as a role model for fair and accurate election processes in the state. Florida statutes mandate that immediately following the certification of each election, a canvassing board must conduct a public manual audit of a randomly selected race in a randomly selected precinct and, to no surprise, Collier County has scored a 100% accuracy rating on all manual audits.
Chalk it up to outstanding leadership.
Blazier succeeds Jennifer J. Edwards, who retired in April 2023 and recommended Blazier to fill the remainder of her term. Blazier has worked alongside Edwards for 17 years, the last 10 as chief deputy, so transitioning into this job has been like putting on her favorite sweater; it just fits without any need to break it in. Blazier takes over with solid knowledge of election law and administrative rules, ensuring future elections will be as transparent, inclusive and accountable as ever.
Blazier’s number one priority is to continue upholding the high standards she helped create. It's a formidable job. Collier County has 262,914 registered voters and Blazier estimates that number will climb closer to 275,000 by the 2024 General Election.
Blazier is supported by 24 full-time staff members who help prepare the equipment, train poll workers, maintain records, qualify candidates, register voters and organize weekly outreach events.
“We are always out in the community somewhere, at a church, a festival or a farmers market. We’re continuously trying to register voters, update voter information…” and promote voter confidence, which she says “took a major hit” after the 2020 election cycle, despite the county’s track record.
That’s one reason she invites the public to sign up for a personally guided “transparency tour” of the election office to learn about the election procedures and meet her team.
“We will show you the voter equipment and explain the process. You get to see the faces behind the desks,” she says. Her office has orchestrated hundreds of tours since 2019.
“We follow the law. Everything we do is administerial. The Florida Election Code is very clear on dates to mail ballots, when to offer early voting, when to do XYZ. It is our bible on how we conduct ourselves and how we conduct elections.”
Where the job requires innovation is in the continuous quest to improve the process. Blazier’s employees become election sleuths, tracking, anticipating and staying ahead of all possible scenarios that could foil election day.
“It’s in the small details. It is our job to plan for everything for that exact moment. And then have a backup plan. Those are the things happening all year round,” Blazier says.
A NAPLES LOCAL
Collier County is the only home Blazier remembers. Her family moved to Naples just before her second birthday, and she graduated from Naples High. Her family was not particularly into politics.
“It was never a dinner table discussion topic, but did I register to vote as soon as I turned 18 and vote in the election? I did,” she says.
In 2006, she was hired as an assistant to Jennifer Edwards, who quickly promoted her to assistant supervisor.
Blazier credits “the best mentor anyone could ask for” with molding her personally and professionally, pushing her to continue her education and obtain the credentials from the National Association of Election Officials and the Florida Supervisors of Elections. Blazier volunteered countless hours with organizations that benefit children, like Child’s Path, the United Way and as multiyear president of the Kiwanis Club of Naples, where she was the 2022 Kiwanian of the Year. In 2020, the Leadership Collier Foundation named her Volunteer of the Year and in 2014, she was included in the Gulf Shore Business Top 40 Under 40.
Blazier and her husband, Devon, (son, Dylan, 23, lives in Denver) are outdoor lovers who enjoy fishing with their two rescue boxers, aka their “foster fails,” from Florida Boxer Rescue, an organization they’ve been involved with for 25 years.
They enjoy spending time with friends and hanging out at Kelly's Fish House. After Hurricane Ian, Blazier’s friends rallied to help repair the devastation, making their Friday night family dinners there extra sweet.
This year, Blazier will be facing one of her biggest professional challenges to date. With a looming election cycle, she also will begin campaigning for her job, an elected position, after her appointed term ends on Jan. 1, 2025.
“I’ve never had to campaign, so there’s a little bit of a learning curve there. But challenges are good; we learn things.”
For now, her focus is on the most important order of business, the 2024 primary and general elections. She expects voter turnout to be even bigger than last cycle’s 90%. But Collier County can rest easy; we’re in good hands.
Wounded Warriors of Collier County Assists Mom and her Three Children
An Iraq veteran faces new challenges returning home
by Karen Hanlon
The phrase “got your six” originated during World War I when soldiers at the vulnerable rear or six o’clock position assured their fighter pilots they had their backs. Members of the armed services continue to rely upon that pledge of loyalty as a matter of life and safety.
But what happens when a soldier transitions back to civilian life, often with some level of PTSD, anxiety, depression or other often invisible wounds from war? Who “has their six” then?
Jackie Toluao, an Army veteran, was asking herself that question last December when the single mother of three was facing a divorce, mounting bills and eviction from her home.
With a goal of eliminating housing insecurity, WWCC’s assistance enables veterans to focus on mental health, employment, and all the other things that lead to self-sufficiency and quality of life.
When Mullin heard about Toluao and her family, he immediately collaborated with multiple community partners, including the Hunger & Homeless Coalition, American Gold Star Mothers, Blue Star Moms and the Salvation Army’s Veteran Services Program, which took the lead in providing immediate resources to cover Toluao’s delinquent bills so the family could stay in place for December. Then they helped the young mom celebrate the holidays.
“They made Christmas possible for my kids,” Toluao says.
They purchased shoes and toys for the children (now ages 12, 9 and 3) and a spa certificate for Toluao. They provided gift cards for wish list presents and a holiday meal. Personalized Christmas cards handwritten by children and a trip to the Naples Christmas Parade added a special touch to the celebration.
After the holidays, Toluao moved forward with the critical step of finding affordable housing. The Alpha Annex, one of four transitional homes operated by WWCC, was available after sheltering multiple male veterans.
Toluao was simultaneously appreciative and anxious. The relocation required her children to switch schools, and she worried if a group lodging for men could be transformed into a welcoming home for children. When she arrived, her concerns melted away.
The men's furnishings were replaced with pretty linens and a dresser. Wall art encouraged her daughter to “Dream Big.”
“For the boys, they put in bunk beds and age-appropriate bedding. They provided a decorative rug, comfortable chairs, new towels and toiletries. They filled my pantry. It is very homey.”
Mullin says many of the items are donated or made available through the support and funding of their donors.
“When people find out what we’re doing, there is an outpouring of support,” Mullin says. “People really care. It is very rewarding to tell a veteran that we have a safe place for them to live and to have the resources to help those who have served our nation and defended our freedom.”
Toluao and her children will live at Alpha Annex through October, allowing time for Toluao to build a nest egg and secure a long-term plan.
“This is all very recent,” Toluao says. She and her sister hope to move in together in the fall and share expenses. “Maybe that will work out. We’re still in limbo.”
She is grateful for the dedicated team led by WWCC, who reacted so quickly. They were “the safety net we needed when we had no place to go.” They, indeed, had her six.
How to Recognize Fake News
Halt the spread of misinformation
by Kimberly Blaker
Thanks to the internet's prevalence and easy access, the world's information fits in our pockets. Unfortunately, this has given rise to fake news and misleading or factually incorrect information.
Anyone who spends time on the internet will be exposed to fake news at some point and many will be taken in by false claims. But some demographics are more susceptible, and the people creating fake news know the demographics that tend to struggle more with technology and information, targeting specific populations that may not have developed the skills and nuance to sorting fact from fiction online.
In fact, the Andrew Guess et al. study of the 2016 presidential campaign, "Less than you think: Prevalence and predictors of fake news dissemination on facebook," found that Facebook users over the age of 65 were almost seven times more likely to share fake news articles than the youngest age range.
Seniors may be particularly at risk for fake news because they're "digital immigrants" who learned to use computers and similar devices at an older age. They may not be as fluent or comfortable with technology or as readily able to disseminate between legitimate and illegitimate sources of information.
"Digital natives," on the other hand, are those who grew up in a world with the internet, computers and smartphones and have had more experience and understanding of its subtleties.
Overall, Americans realize misinformation online is prevalent and dangerous. Yet, according to Statista, "Fake News – Statistics & Facts," only 26% are very confident in their ability to recognize fake news. Just 34% trust social media and 67% believe fake news causes a great deal of confusion.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat and hinder the widespread dispersal of fake news. It just requires learning how to protect yourself and differentiate between sources to gather accurate and verified information.
Types and sources of fake news
Fake news comes in many forms and can be tricky to recognize. It can be found in any form of online media, particularly news articles. A plethora of videos, posts and pictures on the internet present inaccurate information as truthful.
Fake news stories are usually either completely false or have some truth, but they aren't entirely accurate in the presentation. The first type is easier to recognize, while the second can be more difficult and cause more confusion.
Sometimes fake news is unintentionally spread when something is misunderstood or taken out of context. Satire sites sometimes become sources of fake news when people reading or sharing these articles are unfamiliar with the website's purpose. Many of these sites don't prominently note they're publishing parodies rather than reporting factual information. Some common satire sites include The Onion, The Babylon Bee, Borowitz Report, The Daily Currant, Empire News, CAP News, Big American News and National Report.
How to spot fake news
When trying to determine if an article or information is fact or fiction, ask yourself these questions:
Does the website have a suffix indicating legitimacy, such as .gov, .edu, or .org?
Does it come from a known media outlet such as a reputable news station or other organization?
Who's the author, and what are their credentials?
Are other major news stations or sources reporting similar information?
Does the article itself include linked sources or citations to back up its claims?
Is the website selling a product?
Is there an obvious bias against a person or group?
Is the headline attention-grabbing and unbelievable?
Images and 'deep fake' videos are also easy to create with current technology. There may be missing context being cropped, or it's from a different time or place. It could be edited with parts cut out, slowed down or sped up. It's even possible to add or remove both audio and visual content.
If you're feeling unsure about recognizing fake news, online classes are available to help you learn how to spot it, see examples, ask questions and discuss ideas like confirmation bias and the psychology behind people's susceptibility to fiction presented as fact. Online classes, such as through Media Wise at www.poynter.org/mediawise/, are available for learning how to discriminate between fact and fiction on the internet. Senior Planet, AARP and MediaWise for Seniors have resources designed to help older adults develop that skill as well.
Remember that just because you don't agree with something doesn't mean it's fake news. Fake news refers to something that is demonstrably false or cannot be verified.
How to prevent the spread of misinformation
Fake news is created to be shared. Articles, pictures and videos designed to mislead can quickly spread once people start sharing with their friends, who also share until it becomes widely viewed and causes problems. Creators often rely on provoking an emotional response, especially fear or outrage, making you feel like it's your duty to share this vital information with others. Even commenting on or reacting to a post can increase its visibility, causing it to spread.
Here’s what you can do to make sure you are not sharing fake news:
Don't share any resources without pausing to fact-check them.
Report posts or articles that are intentionally misleading or inaccurate.
Read more than just the catchy, attention-grabbing headlines.
Educate others: don't be afraid to call it out when someone shares fake news (but be kind because the person sharing it doesn't likely realize it's fake).
Once you understand how to recognize fake news, you can be a proud part of the movement to stop the spread of misinformation.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera; and more at sagerarebooks.com
How to Fact Check News
If you're not sure about a particular news story or information you've come across, there are ways to verify it. Start with these websites devoted solely to fact checking:
Also, mainstream social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, have started marking posts that share articles, news stories, videos and even accounts. You can often find a notation under the post regarding its veracity and a link to learn more about the post, where it came from and trusted sources with related information.