Life changed forever for Joanie Cramer when she met a group of people directing traffic at a county fair.
As promotions director for three Wilmington radio stations in 2000, Cramer worked a booth at the New Hanover County Fair for a day. During that time, she met several Jaycees who were helping park cars as part of a fundraiser.
The Jaycees, which stands for Junior Chamber, is an international organization that promotes community involvement, business development, individual development and international relations in youths 18 to 40.
Members of the Jaycees automatically become members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.Founded in 1920, the organization has attracted the membership of such prominent figures as past presidents Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford as well as basketball great Larry Bird.
Chapters will often hold classes on topics such as time management skills. They also host events, such as community Easter egg hunts. The events teach members about project planning, delegation, financing and more, said Cramer, and the work helps develop more well-rounded members of society.
Cramer, 29 at the time of the county fair, decided to join the Jaycees that day, a decision that would ultimately determine where she lived, who she married and what she did for the next 10 years.
"The organization was a perfect fit, because I could be a part of something bigger that fit into my schedule," she said, adding that she had wanted to join a civic organization but could not find something compatible with her 90-plus-hour work week.
During the next 10 years, Cramer rose in rank from Jaycee member to chapter president to state president and beyond.
She met her husband, Tom Cramer, while she was Wilmington's chapter president and he was the N.C. president for the Jaycees. She moved to Huntersville where Tom was living shortly before they married.
And Joanie Cramer recently was elected as the 2011 president of the United States Junior Chamber, which has about 24,000 members.
She is only the third North Carolinian in the history of the Jaycees to be elected the national president and the first female.
She's responsible for setting the vision for the national organization and helping to grow membership and chapters. She's also in charge of the organization's budget.
Cramer, 40, spends most of her time traveling, helping to charter new chapters and train new members, she said.
Although she worked as a loan processor for the mortgage industry when she moved to the area, Cramer quit a couple of years ago to focus on being a Jaycee leader. She receives a stipend as national president.
Tom, 47, works as a senior sales engineer with Carolina Cat, a construction equipment company.
During her year as national president, Cramer will focus on encouraging chapters' local impact. Cramer said by becoming more visible in local communities, the Jaycees will be able to attract more members.
Suzette Plaisted, who has known Cramer since she joined the Jaycees, said she is confident Cramer will follow through with her plans because that is what she has always done.
"She never backs down from a challenge. She always faces them head on," said Plaisted. "I really admire her can-do attitude and her willingness to do whatever it takes."
Kathy McNair, who served as the Wilmington chapter president when Cramer joined 10 years ago, said she affectionately calls Cramer the "Energizer bunny" because she's always taking on new responsibilities within the organization.
McNair said energy and enthusiasm will serve her well as the leader of the national Junior Chamber.
"Her excitement and love for the Jaycee organization is infectious," said McNair. "She's an amazing woman. It's easy to see that the position she's in was what she was meant to be."
Cramer said she doesn't know what she will do when she ages out of the organization next year, but said she hopes to stay involved as a sponsor or honorary member.
"The Jaycee organization is very addictive. When you get into it, you find the time, you find the energy, and you make the lifelong friends," she said. "Giving it up and taking a backseat will be very hard."