The Rapidian

Event Coordinator balances hospitality, leadership for "24/7" job

Jamie Carnes shares her story of becoming a wedding and event coordinator along with the responsibilities that come with such a career.
Jamie Carnes (middle) making sure everything is ready before guest arrival.

Jamie Carnes (middle) making sure everything is ready before guest arrival. /Courtesy of Mitch Ranger Photography

Behind those romantic scenes so many think consume the lives of wedding planners, people often overlook the ongoing tasks and details needed to make each wedding day perfect. Jamie Carnes, director of event management and design at RSVP events, started pursuing her career path as a wedding planner and event coordinator when she was 18 years old.

“I was definitely that girl in high school who was the school president who planned homecoming and prom. It had not dawned on me as a career until a teacher had encouraged it,” says Carnes.

While looking for colleges to attend, Carnes researched people who had careers that interested her. Beyond reading a simple biography, Carnes invited each person out for coffee and in return received encouragement and tips for success.

“I learned that people are very willing to come talk to you if you are willing to purchase them a cup of coffee,” says Carnes.

She received feedback that event coordinators need to be capable of understanding the foundation of business, tracking budgets and writing. Taking the advice, Carnes enrolled at De Paul University in Chicago and earned a degree in Management and Marketing.  

While at De Paul University, Carnes worked full time and interned at an event firm. Her first experience involved performance management as she planned national headlining bands in Chicago.

Post graduation, Carnes moved to Manhattan, New York where she worked at a law school with other staff to coordinate over 500 events a year. Three months into working, the director stepped down and offered Carnes her position. She worked as the director for the next three years.

Carnes then moved back to Grand Rapids with her husband. The adjustment from Manhattan to Grand Rapids happened during the first ArtPrize, an event that provided enough excitement and encouragement during their transition, she says.

Her first project in Grand Rapids was 10 months long and involved fundraising and coordinating the Princess Diana Gala.

“I just came in at the right time here to be at the ground floor for a couple of the big pieces. It definitely made me realize that people are doing great things in Grand Rapids and it was a fun world to jump in and be a part of,” she says.

Taking her high school teacher’s advice, Carnes set forth down the destined road that eventually lead her to the acceptance of several awards such as the 2012 Brides Choice Award.  

Carnes says she does not live the life so many of us dream as children while we roleplay planning our friend’s wedding.

“You’re always aware; you don’t really shut your brain off with a job like this. In fact, we joke quite frequently when we come in the morning and all the coordinators are together. We laugh about our 3 a.m. ideas and shower ideas,” says Carnes.

While her life is absorbed in the details of coordinating events, others often overlook the same details that involve ongoing planning to execute.

“Most people sit down and take it all in, but they don’t think about how it got there," she says. "Our job isn’t as glamorous as everyone thinks.”

From the chair cover to the menu cards, and even the fold of the napkin, event coordinators do it all, she says.

“You’re on 24/7 because different components come at different times," says Carnes.

Danelle Owens had her outdoor May wedding planned by Carnes.

“Throughout the planning process, Jamie kept us on schedule, helped us find all the right vendors and dealt with any issues or problems in a very professional manner. She has a great personality so she was very easy to talk to and work with! Jamie always went above and beyond of what was expected from her and we were so blessed to have her help us,” says Owens.

In addition to planning for weddings, Carnes also coordinates corporate events such as working with the nonprofit Kids’ Food Basket. Ashley Abbott, Outreach and Development Coordinator for Kids’ Food Basket, also hired in Carnes.

“Working with Jamie was an amazing experience. Jamie demonstrated an incredibly perfect balance of a sincere hospitable personality and experienced leadership while ensuring a focus on the ultimate goals of our event,” says Abbott.

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