Savage resident Kristi Harlan began her term as president of the Minnesota State Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood this month.

The P.E.O. Sisterhood is a U.S.-based international women’s organization founded in 1869. The organization’s work centers around providing educational opportunities to women through scholarships, loans and other means.

Harlan is the first member of Minnesota P.E.O. Chapter FP, which includes residents of Shakopee, Prior Lake and Savage, to serve in the state role.

“I’m honored to be able to serve the sisters of Minnesota, and I look forward to promoting P.E.O. and moving it forward into the future,” she said.

Harlan’s grandmother and mother were both members of the organization before she joined in 1994. She attended Cottey College, the private women’s college in Missouri owned by the organization, and joined two Colorado chapters before moving to Minnesota and joining her local chapter in 2014.

She’s served in state committees in both Colorado and Minnesota.

“It’s a fantastic group of women that genuinely care about each other and support each other,” said Michele Hizon, a Prior Lake resident and Chapter FP member. “It’s just a wonderful support network.”

As of April, P.E.O. has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance, including educational loans totaling more than $221 million and Program for Continuing Education grants of more than $62.4 million, according to the organization’s website.

Locally, Chapter FP awards its own $500 scholarship annually to a graduating senior. The scholarship was established by the chapter’s founders in 2005.

“That’s something where we can see a direct impact on someone in our community trying to pursue their education,” Hizon said.

The organization’s work also extends beyond education. In Minnesota, they provide grants for home adaptability improvements for residents facing a medical crisis.

Currently 25 women serve in the local Chapter FP. There are 125 chapters statewide with over 5,800 members.

Harlan said local chapter members are the boots on the ground, helping the organization raise money and find women who need funds to complete their education.

From her time in Colorado, Harlan recalled when P.E.O. helped a young woman stuck in a cycle of teenage pregnancy, drug use and incarceration complete her high school education. Eventually, she went on to graduate with a degree from Cottey College.

“She thrived at Cottey,” Harlan said.

Harlan’s dedication and attention to detail will help the organization evolve and grow into the future, Hizon said.

Harlan said one of her near-term goals is to grow membership in local chapters and continue connecting with the women who might benefit from the organization’s work.

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