(From the April 2014 issue of The National Notary magazine) By Kat Garcia and David Thun The 2014 Notary of the Year Honorees epitomize the best traditions and highest level of professionalism of the Notary Public office. Join us at the NNA 2014 Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, this June to honor these dedicated individuals and find out who will be named Notary of the Year. Valerie Barrett: Going Above And Beyond For Her Community Home: Irvine, California Occupation: Mobile Notary Years She Has Been A Notary: 6 “You have to be a self-motivated and trustworthy individual to be able to represent yourself as a Notary.” Valerie Barrett goes above and beyond for the people of her community. Whether she’s mentoring new Notaries, dropping off food or running errands for signers with health problems while notarizing documents on their behalf, or working with children in foster care, Barrett always makes time for those in need. She first became a Notary in 2008, while working as an appraiser. When the real estate market crashed, it was hard to find appraisal work, so Barrett instead chose to focus on marketing her Notary services. Today, she performs assignments for adoption attorneys, patent attorneys, banks and many other businesses in her area. “One of the things I enjoy most about being a Notary is the opportunity to work with all kinds of people. It’s challenging and rewarding,” she said. Barrett doesn’t see her commission simply as a means of income. It also creates an opportunity to help others in her community. While offering free notarial services to people in need, she often befriends signers, running errands or picking up food for them if they can’t do so themselves. Barrett also volunteers with a program called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), providing meals for children in the foster care system and helping them with tips on resumes, job interviews and other important future life skills. She’s also written an article about being a Notary for an Orange County magazine and visited health care facilities with attorneys to give talks on what Notaries do. Barrett says it’s important to make Notary services readily available to the public. “I think it’s important to have independent Notaries available at facilities like banks, hospitals and escrow offices,” she said. “Notaries are a positive influence and provide a valuable service when someone is signing documents.” Tara Bradford: Connecting Orphans With Forever Families Home: Bozeman, Montana Occupation: Adoption Advocate, Notary Years She Has Been Notary: 4 “I became a Notary to ensure adoptive families’ documents and their process are as efficient and trustworthy as possible.” Tara Bradford has spent her life facing the challenges of the adoption process, both as an adoptee from South Korea and an adoptive parent of three siblings from Ethiopia. As the Director of Encompass Orphan Care, Tara works tirelessly to empower orphans, educate those who want to adopt children, and provide a network of support for families at every stage of the journey. She initially became a Notary to ensure the families she works with have access to accurately prepared paperwork for their dossier because improperly notarized documents can create problems for people trying to establish their forever families. Named the 2013 Montana Notary of the Year on National Notary Day in November, Tara was recognized for the accuracy and efficiency of her work. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch complimented her for these traits in the official press release and went on to say that Tara “is making a positive difference by connecting foster and adoptive families with children in need. She has a demonstrated record of exceptional public service and goes out of her way to facilitate the processing of time sensitive documents.” Tara combines her Notary knowledge with her two Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Elementary Education from the University of North Dakota to better serve her clients. She is passionate about her role as a Notary, travels to speak at conferences, goes out of her way to ensure privacy for her signers, and doesn’t charge for her services. Tara understands the positive impact her Notary Public office has for families in need and considers being a Notary just one more way she can support and give back to her community. Tara advocates for continuing education for all Notaries, better education for the general public, and wants to help “better communicate the value and implications of notarizations” to a global audience. Lucius Morris: A Passion For Law And Education From: Baton Rouge, Louisiana Occupation: Attorney, Notary Years He Has Been A Notary: 7 “It’s important to give the public a sense of trust because Notaries are involved in their major life events.” Lucius “Luke” Morris had a passion for the law from a young age. By the time he graduated high school in 2007, he was working for a CPA firm, and his boss encouraged him to take the test to become a Notary. Unlike Notaries in most states, Louisiana Notaries play an expanded part in the state’s legal system, assisting clients with the preparation of documents and other duties. Morris took and passed the state exam at age 18 — the youngest person in the state to do so. Former Secretary of State and current Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne was so impressed that he wrote Morris a letter of recommendation to Louisiana State University to study law. Since becoming a Notary, Morris has been active in the Louisiana Notary Association, volunteering to review and study pending state legislation to report on how it will affect Notaries. He has also taught classes for fellow Notaries and participated in an email service called Notary2Notary, answering questions from colleagues about Louisiana law. On top of that, he received his law degree and passed the state bar last year — and still finds time for charitable activities such as volunteering to help military veterans prepare wills, notarizing bar application documents for graduating law students at no cost and volunteering with a local animal adoption organization. “Being a Notary is not about the bottom line on a financial statement; it’s a moral obligation to help those in need,” he said. Because of the important role Notaries play in Louisiana’s legal system, Morris encourages them not to be afraid to educate themselves. “Some Notaries I’ve met are nervous about approaching certain documents,” he said. “I tell them not to shy away — learn about your role so that you can offer more services to the public and be a better Notary.” Michelle Riley: Education Advocate Building A Supportive Community Home: Homewood, Alabama Occupation: Benefit Advisor, Notary Entrepreneur Years She Has Been Notary: 8 “I started Notaries For Alabama to create mentoring, training and networking opportunities.” By day Michelle Riley is a benefits advisor for The Guardian Life Insurance Company. But by night she is a Notary activist. She founded Notaries4Alabama in 2013 — the only networking group for Notaries Public in the state — which is dedicated to training, mentoring and networking. In less than one year she has built a valuable community for Notaries in her area. Armed with eight years of Notary experience and degrees in Communications and Political Science from the University of Alabama, Riley’s educational series covers a wide variety of topics from Notary basics to industry best practices to becoming a Notary entrepreneur. Her most recent class in March featured a local police detective who taught Notaries what to do to avoid danger, and what to do if they find themselves in imminent danger. Throughout 2014, she will incorporate embracing social media and identity theft prevention into her lineup. “I’m planning to host a representative from Alabama’s Identity Theft Taskforce who will show my group members the various ways identification cards can be tampered with, which should be an eye-opening experience for some attendees,” Michelle said. Because of Riley’s activism on behalf of the state’s Notaries, Secretary of State Jim Bennett attended her Notary Public Day celebration on Nov. 7 and asked her to review the state’s Notary handbook to provide suggestions for areas that should be updated. She is also fostering communication with state officials to promote training requirements to raise the bar for the Notary Public office. David Shean: A Voice For Notaries In The Real Estate Industry Home: Pasadena, California Occupation: Escrow Consultant, Signing Agent Years He Has Been Notary: 32 “Journals are the most important piece of evidence to prove you’ve done your job as a Notary correctly and accurately.” David Shean has nearly half a century of experience in real estate. A signing agent and veteran escrow consultant, he knows the industry inside-and-out and has used his decades of experience to educate the industry and public about the importance of the Notary’s role. A former president of the California Escrow Association, Shean has written articles for the CEA on escrow and Notary issues, helped present online webinars teaching Notaries about the escrow process and has testified as an expert witness in criminal cases involving forged Notary seals. One of the biggest challenges he’s encountered over the years is a lack of understanding of the Notary’s role by other real estate professionals. For example, he says that escrow professionals often have a hard time understanding why Notaries must have a signer physically return if a document has to be re-notarized. Over the course of his career, Shean has worked to help the real estate industry and public better understand the Notary’s role and improve policies for Notary-employees. One company he worked for threatened to fire any employees who notarized documents outside of business hours — Shean explained to management that the policy wasn’t appropriate and was instrumental in getting the policy changed. Shean has actively supported legislation to help Notaries do their jobs better and is an advocate of strict ethical and professional standards. Shean has also worked with the American Escrow Association and Mortgage Bankers Association in support of lenders standardizing loan instructions and documents to make the loan process easier for signing agents and borrowers. At the same time, he says it’s essential Notaries follow their state laws, even when it’s not always convenient. “What we do is critically important,” he said. “Our authority is from the state. We may not agree with all the rules and regulations, but they are the ones who establish the rules.” Kat Garcia is the Public Relations Specialist with the National Notary Association. David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.