As college students settle into their dorms and apartments for a new year, they’re not just thinking about getting to class on time or which pair of jeans is clean enough to wear. Millions are also weighed down by the thought of paying for their higher education. Female students in particular struggle to fund college and grad school and hold two-thirds of the $1.6 Trillion in student debt, according to the American Association of University women.
That’s exactly why P.E.O. International has built a legacy of supporting and empowering women in pursuit of their educational dreams. Over the last 150 years P.E.O. has provided over $345 million in grants, scholarships, awards and low interest loans to more than 109,000 women.
You’ve never heard of P.E.O.? Journalist Savannah Gutherie has. So has Jessica Meier, who in September will take up residence in the International Space Station as this country’s newest female astronaut; and so has Liz Stevens, a young woman from a remote area of Montana who is now a biological archaeologist helping to identify the recently returned bones of American servicemen lost in the Korean War. All three had their educations financed in part by P.E.O., which counts nearly half a million female members and 6,000 chapters across the United States and Canada.
From the moment the seven founders came together over a bond of friendship in Mount Pleasant, Iowa in 1869, and the original philanthropic project was established in 1908, P.E.O. has been a leader in meeting the social and economic challenges of women.
In the early 1900’s when banks wouldn’t loan money to women for their education, P.E.O. established the P.E.O. Education Loan Fund. With the gift of Cottey College to P.E.O. in 1927, students and alumnae at Cottey College and alumnae have experienced the impact on their lives worldwide from the power and education of a women’s college. Following World War II, the P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship Fund was established to provide conduits for peace through education of women worldwide. In the 1970s as women returned to the workforce, the P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education grant was established. As more and more women entered graduate-level degree programs, the P.E.O. Scholar Awards was established as our fifth philanthropic project and one of the premier academic awards for women in the United States and Canada. In just eleven years, the P.E.O. Star Scholarship has filled a void in our philanthropic projects to award over 4,300 high school seniors with over $11 million in financial support for college.
Perhaps the most provocative element of P.E.O.’s giving, is that every dollar used to fund women’s education is raised at the local level. Over generations, P.E.O. has used the collective giving model, bringing together small fundraisers and individual donations to make significant awards. It allows anyone to act as a philanthropist and contribute in ways that change lives and communities. Over the last 150 years, countless bake sales, plant sales, wine tastings and trivia nights have funded higher education opportunities for women. And in turn, P.E.O. has united women of all ages, races and backgrounds through a passion for educating and empowering other women. The organization’s singular mission gives members a sense of purpose. But it’s the unconditional support and loving concern that provides every P.E.O. member and award recipient a sense of belonging.
We all need a tribe. I invite you to find yours. To learn more about P.E.O. or to donate, visit peointernational.org.