Former Foster Youth and Volunteer
As a foster youth in Del Paso Heights who was about to graduate from high school, September Hargrove felt like her only opportunity to succeed was if she ran away – so she did.
“When things turned bad in my foster home, my social worker said she couldn’t help me,” September said. “I was one of the good kids, and when you have a caseload of 30 kids, you prioritize the kids in trouble.”
Fortunately, September landed at her aunt’s house where she finished high school and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree from Harvard University.
When she left her foster home, she could have decided to run from her past too. But she chose not to.
“I was interested in foster youth advocacy because of my own experience,” September said. “I wanted to learn more about how to help foster youth who weren’t prepared to emancipate, and I wanted to address some of the issues that cause foster care placements.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley, September came back to Sacramento to serve as a California Senate Fellow and reunite with her mom and brothers, but her mom was using drugs again. So September maintained her fellowship while taking in her brothers and working at a group home at night to earn extra money and learn about older kids who could not get placed in the foster care system. That’s when she began volunteering with United Way and even spoke at United Way’s Women United Luncheon in 2008.
Eleven years later, she spoke again at the Women United Luncheon – this time as the keynote speaker, talking about her path to her current position as vice president and program officer for global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase in Detroit.
“I’ve always been interested in how to create more economic mobility for communities of color so kids don’t have to go into the foster care system,” September said. “I always felt my mom’s biggest challenge was that she couldn’t get and stay in a job. I wanted to be in a space where I could be a job creator or focus on financial stability and economic mobility.”
September left Sacramento for graduate school and then became a White House Fellow with the National Economic Council and a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Obama administration. She also served as chief operating officer for the New Orleans Startup Fund and an economic development program manager for a former New Orleans mayor.
She now is responsible for leading JPMorgan Chase’s $200 million commitment to Detroit across the firm’s priority areas: neighborhood revitalization, small business, financial health and workforce development.
“I’m not a Detroiter, but I know what it feels like to be poor and black,” September said. “My personal experience drives me to show up. At the end of the day, I see the common challenges that cut across communities, regardless of location. My life’s work is being able to invest in solutions that prevent future generations from going into foster care.”
At United Way’s Women United Luncheon this year, September said she was excited to be an example to the other foster kids in the room.
“Foster kids are born into a situation where their life seems predetermined,” September said. “But I’ve been to two of the best universities in the world and worked for President Obama at the White House. It doesn’t matter where I was born or went to high school. What matters is that I show up every day. I want these kids to know that their experience makes them an asset to any board room – that’s their badge of honor.”