The Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) has been celebrating women helping women reach their educational, professional and service-oriented goals for more than 150 years.
This year, a pair of intelligent and ambitious young women from the region have been honored with the group’s annual STAR scholarship. Established in 2009, STAR is a merit-based, $2,500 scholarship available to high school graduates who intend to continue their education at a college or university in the following academic year.
The protocol for a candidate’s consideration is the same for all chapters: demonstrated excellence in leadership, academics, extracurricular activities, community service and potential for future success.
Fitting the bill in 2020 are Haddonfield Memorial High School alumna Rachel Bonnet — nominated by PEO’s Cherry Hill chapter — with Lenape High School alumna Grace Harsche getting the nod from its Haddonfield branch.
Bonnet, president of her graduating class, was also founding member of Teams Work For Good Inc., a 501(c) (3) organization engaged in service projects supporting multiple organizations that raised over $45,000 to create positive change in her local and global community.
Bonnet walked the walk of Christian charity by embarking on three mission trips with her church during her formative years, to build and repair homes in areas such as Appalachia, New Orleans and the Dominican Republic.
She will enter Cornell University in the fall, running track and studying business in the School of Hotel Management.
“I plan to use my education and dedication (to service) to position myself in a place where I can make important decisions that will make the world a better place,” Bonnet said.
“I will try my best to do the right thing and encourage others to do the same,” she added when asked how the path before her would influence future action. “In the past, I have enjoyed bringing different groups of people together.
“I will continue to do that in order to help people realize their full potential.”
Harsche, a Mt. Laurel native, served as president of the Women of the World Club and also as a mentor in Peer Group Connections, a program to assist freshmen in a group setting with issues such as bullying and peer pressure. She was one of only 20 students in her graduating class of 490 selected by faculty to attend the Leadership Academy, which trains students in leadership skills.
Harsche’s involvement in community endeavors includes serving three years as a member of the Girls Advisory Council at the Alice Paul Institute in her hometown, an internship with Congressman Andy Kim and volunteering with the Philadelphia project, a nonprofit day care for underprivileged children in Philadelphia.
With such an impressive resume, Harsche admitted the selection process was daunting at first, but familiarity with the organization set her mind at ease.
“My grandmother is a member of the PEO and she introduced me to the group,” Harsche recalled. “They decided that they wanted me to be their candidate. I just got lucky and had some amazing connections.
“It was a bit overwhelming at first (to know I was their choice),” she added, “but the group did an awesome job taking me through the whole process, and I knew exactly what was coming.”
Harsche plans to attend Tulane University in the fall and study international relations, with a concentration in international development and a minor in French.
“I think the way I can make a mark on the world is by helping others,” she revealed of her post-graduate plans. “I decided that I want to work for a global nonprofit, implementing education or health-care (solutions) somewhere in the world, so I can put those degrees to good use.”
In addition to educational philanthropies, the PEO Sisterhood provides a framework of support and community for all members. What started with a bond of friendship among seven women in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, is now one of the oldest women’s organizations in North America, with close to 6,000 chapters.
Since its inception in 1869, the nonprofit has helped more than 113,000 women pursue educational goals by providing over $366 million in grants, scholarships, awards and loans.
To learn more about PEO’s philanthropic endeavors, and to see stories of women who have benefited from its programs, visit peointernational.org.