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Chapter Y Vice President and retired teacher Carolann Van Galder and P.E.O. Chapter Y President and retired surgeon Dr. Susan Behrens gather for a photo. They want to spread the word about the scholarships and grants their organization gives to women pursuing their education.

BELOIT—A surprising gift from a sisterhood in Beloit helped former cosmetologist Jody Valk of Beloit go back to school to pursue her dream of becoming a hospice nurse.

Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.) is a little-known group with two chapters in Beloit. The sisterhood gives to women of all ages who want to pursue education. For Valk, P.E.O offered a life-changing gift.

Valk had worked as a cosmetologist for 22 years when she decided on a career change. She began considering nursing when her daughter battled leukemia.

“When we were in the hospital with my daughter, her doctors were wonderful, but it was the day-to-day nursing staff helping her. She had her favorite nurses to request to do certain painful procedures. She had trust and relationships with them,” Valk said.

By the time her two daughters were teenagers, Valk was ready to go to nursing school. She and her husband thought it would be too difficult to go to nursing school full-time, work and raise the family. Valk decided she would go to school full-time for her first semester in 2017, a financial strain on the family.

It was Valk’s aunt in Rhinelander, Wisconsin who asked her if there was a Beloit P.E.O. chapter to seek out for help. After going through the application process, P.E.O. sprung to action and helped Valk fund about a semester’s worth of her education.

“I was completely shocked and surprised to have been awarded this gift, especially in the amount it was for and so thankful for having a little peace of mind that semester to help me get through the rest of my education,” Valk said.

Not only did Valk get funds, but got notes and cards encouraging her and a phone call of congratulations upon completing her education.

Valk went on to become a hospice nurse, noting one of her first patients was a pediatric cancer patient. Today, she is thrilled with her new career.

“My first job was people-oriented and I love healthcare. I love the idea of problem solving and helping people overcome something and fix something,” she said. “I’ve got a daughter wanting to go into nursing and we will remember P.E.O.”

Philanthropic Education Organization (P.E.O) is perhaps Beloit’s best-kept secret. To get the word out, the organization is inviting women to its open house on Feb. 18 to learn more about what the organization has to offer and encourage others to be on the lookout for talented women seeking education.

“We are committed to women helping women reach for the stars by helping them with education at all levels,” P.E.O. Chapter Y President Dr. Susan Behrens, a retired surgeon, said.

Philanthropic Education Organization (P.E.O) Chapter Y and BB in Beloit are seeking women who need money for their education. P.E.O. has unique scholarships and awards for all types of women in different stages of life.

For example, there could be a high school student seeking a scholarship for college, a woman who needs funds for an advanced research project or a woman wanting to go back to college or technical school after having a family. There are also low-interest loans available and special funds for groups and individuals who need help for anything from rebuilding life a fire to dental bills.

“I remember a gal who needed a car to go back and forth to her classes and was given money to help with transportation,” Behrens said.

Those who want more information on a scholarship or award can email magillm7@gmail.com.

Those who wish to learn more about the organization are invited to the Feb. 18 open house at River of Life Methodist Life at 1 p.m. There will be a brief program about PEO, and Nancy Stacey, a humorist, will speak about women getting older. Light refreshments will be served.

PEO was founded in 1869. Since then there are a quarter of a million members and 6,000 chapters in North America.There are 40 women in Chapter Y and more women in Chapter BB.

More than 109,000 women have benefited from P.E.O’s educational grants, loans, awards, special projects and stewardship of Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri,

While the group has adequate funding, it sometimes has a difficult time getting the word out about its good works to fellow women.

What is unique about P.E.O., leaders say, is how they form a personal relationship with the scholarship awardee.

“What makes us different from other scholarship programs is how we form a personal relationship with each candidate and are heavily involved in the application process so we provide support during and through their educational experience,” said Chapter Y Vice President and retired teacher Carolann Van Galder.

P.E.O, for example, will send cards, gift cards and goodies to women they are sponsoring.

“We are a sisterhood in the best sense of the word,” Van Galder added.

Women helped by the P.E.O. Chapter Y, Behrens and Van Galder said, range from a woman going to technical school to a woman studying genetics and probiotics.