When Charlene Hallett thinks about what she’s achieved as a student, she credits the people who have helped her along the way for her success — including the members of the Philanthropic Education Organization Sisterhood.

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This article was published 28/11/2020 (303 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Charlene Hallett thinks about what she’s achieved as a student, she credits the people who have helped her along the way for her success — including the members of the Philanthropic Education Organization Sisterhood.

Hallett received a financial award from the non-profit last December during her final year of undergraduate studies in human ecology at the University of Manitoba.

The award came after the 44-year-old wife and mother of three had been denied student aid.

"That was a huge help in a time when I desperately needed it," Hallett says.

When she was growing up in a poor family in the North End, Hallett never envisioned post-secondary education for herself. But after "a 21-year pause," she began studying at the University of Manitoba in 2015 at the age of 39.

She graduated earlier this year with top marks and she is now working on a master’s degree in community health sciences.

"It’s making me emotional right now when I think about how many people have lifted me up to achieve what I’ve achieved," Hallett says.

Celebrating the advancement of women, supporting them through scholarships, grants, awards and loans, and motivating them to achieve their highest aspirations is why PEO exists, says Karen Wiebe, president of the organization’s Manitoba-Northwest Ontario provincial chapter.

PEO was founded in January 1869 by seven students at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, after they were rejected by a popular sorority.

The group, whose members were bonded by their enthusiasm for women’s opportunities, eventually expanded to include women off campus.

Today, the sisterhood includes about 230,000 members internationally with about 6,000 chapters across the United States and Canada.

Since the organization’s inception, it has provided more than $366 million in funding for more than 113,000 recipients.

In Manitoba, the Sisterhood includes more than 300 members across 17 chapters.

"I enjoy the friendship that PEO brings and just feeling that you’re giving back to your community," says Wiebe, a registered nurse who joined the group in 1986. "It’s a way that you can volunteer for a non-profit organization and help other women."

That camaraderie is what Lynette Phyfe, who joined PEO in 2002, most enjoys about the Sisterhood.

"I don’t have any biological sisters, so I enjoy the sisterliness of the group," says Phyfe, an instructor at the University of Manitoba.

Phyfe was born and raised in Nashua, Iowa, about 225 kilometres northwest of PEO’s headquarters in Des Moines.

Belonging to the Sisterhood made moving to Winnipeg 11 years ago easier than it otherwise would have been.

"I knew I would have a built-in group of sisters here," she says. "If I wanted to go for coffee, I just had to make a phone call or two and I would have women willing to meet with me.… There’s a bond of sisterhood that unites us, no matter where you live or what stage of life you’re in."

One of the things Linda Hamilton enjoys about PEO is the relationships that are formed with the women who receive funding.

Beyond the financial support, the Sisterhood provides emotional support and encouragement to funding recipients, including cards and small gifts on special occasions such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween.

"We have so much fun following these students and supporting them," says Hamilton, a retired veterinarian who joined PEO more than 30 years ago. "It’s just really fun to get to know them and really take care of them in our own little way."

Each chapter holds 12 business meetings annually and organizes a variety of different fundraisers, from garage sales and bake sales to raffles and fashion shows.

PEO pools its money across the entire Sisterhood, meaning that individual chapters are not limited by the amount of money they raise when it comes to how much they can award to students.

Money is awarded to women around the globe.

"What we do has an impact locally, but it also has an impact across the world," Phyfe says. "The idea that if you change a woman, you change a family and you change the world really applies to PEO."

Hallett is thankful for the Sisterhood’s support.

"I just love PEO," she says. "It’s the idea of women supporting women (and) it’s an incredible feeling to be a part of that. I’m humbled to be a part of that and I’m grateful to be a part of that."

People interested in learning more about PEO or making a donation can visit peo-mb-nwo.org or email mbnwon@gmail.com.

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