During her tenure as Worthy Grand Matron of the Pennsylvania Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (OES) in 2003, Jo-Anne Karnes started a “pet” project, Tabs for Tots, to raise money to provide service dogs for children with disabilities.

She had no idea how much the project would resonate with members, raising $95,000 in one year. She also didn’t realize how much it would mean to her, or that 15 years later, she’d be taking the project to an international level.

“I just saw a real need,” she said. “I’m proud that 100 percent of the money raised goes to the program. None of it goes to administrative costs.

“It’s also an important way to educate the world about OES and our mission to help mankind as much as possible.”

As of Nov. 1, 2018, the program, now called the OES Service Dogs program, will become OES’s international flagship charity. Members in Peru, Brazil, Italy, the Philippines and beyond will raise money for service dogs.

It costs approximately $25,000 to raise, train and place each service dog. The money raised in Pennsylvania is given to Susquehanna Service Dogs, which provides dogs for clients who have a range of disabilities: spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, fibromyalgia and severe arthritis, seizure disorders, uncontrolled diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss, autism and others.

The first year of the project, Susquehanna Service Dogs asked Jo-Anne if OES could provide part of their donation early in order to meet an urgent need. A mother was trying to raise money for her son, who had several health issues, and they wanted to give her a dog as soon as possible. Typically, recipients are anonymous, so Jo-Anne was shocked when the little boy, his service dog, his mother and a TV camera from a local news station walked into an OES banquet she was attending. The family wanted to thank Jo-Anne and the OES members in person.

“I found out they named the dog Ruthie, which was my mother’s name. At that moment, it had a real tie-in for me,” she said.  “Ironically, one of our five OES heroines is named Ruth.”

From 2009 to 2012, the program, which expanded beyond Pennsylvania across the United States and Canada, raised $1.2 million to provide service dogs to children, adults and veterans.

Since she retired and moved to Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, Jo-Anne has spent the last two years as chairman of a committee working to assemble a training book, brainstorming fundraising suggestions, developing a website and designing brochures for the re-launch of the program.

Part of Jo-Anne’s efforts also include ensuring OES funds only support organizations which are accredited by the Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation to guarantee each dog is trained and treated humanely by experienced handlers.

Jo-Anne has heard many stories about the service dogs OES funds have supported. One dog was able to get assistance for a young girl trying to commit suicide, another came to the aid of a man having a heart attack and countless others have provided peace of mind, companionship and medical assistance.

“I never thought it would go this far,” Jo-Anne said. “It’s touched so many hearts, including mine. It’s a labor of love, and I’m motivated by its impact to keep doing it. It’s one of the best things I ever had the opportunity to do.

“Our members deserve all the credit. They’ve donated millions of dollars, and they’re excited about it. It’s not hard to ask for money when people can see how these dogs have changed lives. Hopefully, people also realize what OES is really about – charity, truth and loving kindness.”

Visit www.OESservicedogs.com for more information about the program or to contribute.