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Rising Ground, One of New York City’s Earliest Human Services Providers, Celebrates 190 Years of Helping New Yorkers Through Challenging Times

Rising Ground launched a yearlong celebration of its 190th Anniversary on March 8, 2021, which began with a virtual Anniversary Celebration Kickoff and will culminate with a festive Gala in March 2022. In between, Rising Ground has planned a year of special events and programs to honor this milestone anniversary. A highlight is a lecture series that will be co-hosted by Trinity Church Wall Street; well-known historian Kenneth Jackson will lead off the series on April 27. A 190th Anniversary video detailing Rising Ground’s history will premiere in September. John R. Greed, President and CEO of Mutual of America, will serve as Rising Ground’s Anniversary Honoree.

Long part of the fabric of New York City, the award-winning nonprofit began life as the Leake and Watts Orphan House, which opened its doors on March 7, 1831, thus becoming one of the earliest providers of child welfare services in New York City. Over the decades, the organization pioneered innovative approaches to meet the needs of New York’s vulnerable children, adults, and families, providing hope and opportunity for New Yorkers in need.

“The founding of the Leake and Watts Orphan Home marks the beginning of Rising Ground’s legacy of service to New Yorkers that has spanned generations and morphed and changed over time to meet community needs,” explained Mr. Mucatel. “Over time, we’ve evolved and incorporated a new and better understanding of how to help and constructively influence people’s lives.”

Today, Rising Ground is one of the largest and most impactful human services organizations in New York City, providing vital support to 25,000 children, adults, and families. With 1,600 employees and more than three dozen locations in New York City and Westchester County, Rising Ground operates more than 50 programs, ranging from foster care, family stabilization, and early childhood education services, to supports for survivors of gender-based violence, runaway and homeless teens, students with emotional and learning disorders, and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization changed its name from Leake and Watts Services to Rising Ground in 2018.

‘A Bedrock of Support for People of All Ages Across New York’

New York officials are acutely aware of Rising Ground’s impact on their constituents. In a letter congratulating Rising Ground on its anniversary, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, stated, “For nearly two centuries, Rising Ground has been an invaluable ally.” He added, “This organization works tirelessly to uplift New Yorkers through its wide array of vital services.” Mayor DeBlasio noted that throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, “Rising Ground has persevered, continuing many of its crucial projects and maintaining its status as a bedrock of support for people of all ages across New York. I applaud all those associated with Rising Ground for their unwavering dedication to those they serve and to building a brighter, more equitable, and more inclusive tomorrow.”

State Senator and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins wrote, “Your organization has been a tireless leader in helping New York’s children, adults, and families by providing caring support, critical services, and life-changing programs.” She continued, “Through your selfless service many New Yorkers have the necessary social safety nets to continue to thrive.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a video message at the 190th Anniversary Kickoff, “For 190 years, Rising Ground has provided hope and a future to those often overlooked and underserved. Rising Ground’s services to children, adults, and families in need throughout the New York area are especially important now in the midst of the pandemic. The need for goods and services experienced by low-income communities has not evaporated. Rather, they are compounded by yet another disadvantage heaped upon them. This is why the work of organizations like Rising Ground is in great demand. This organization deserves recognition and support.”

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano stated in his congratulatory letter: “Rising Ground is a trusted voice in the care of our most vulnerable population, especially our children. Thousands of families are forever changed for the better because of their compassionate and dedicated work through the years.”

‘The History of New York City Is the History of Rising Ground’

According to Margery E. Ames, Esq., Vice President and the longest-serving member of Rising Ground’s Board of Directors: “For 190 years, every time New York faced a challenge, we stepped up to the plate with innovative solutions.” Indeed, some of those challenges were daunting, as she listed many of them:

• In the 1860s, Rising Ground cared for orphans of the Civil War.
• In the late 1910s, Rising Ground rescued children separated from their parents in the great Spanish Flu Pandemic.
• In the 1930s, Rising Ground took in children abandoned and displaced by the Great Depression.
• In the 1970s, Rising Ground fostered babies born with AIDS or addicted to crack cocaine.
• In the 1990s New York closed institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but Rising Ground opened homes in the community where they live today.
• In the 2020s, Rising Ground is sheltering unaccompanied minors who come across our border to flee the violence in their home countries.

“The history of New York is the history of Rising Ground,” Ms. Ames concluded.

Today, New Yorkers once again face a serious challenge, this time from the Covid-19 pandemic. Families are struggling as illness, unemployment, and a scarcity of resources take their toll on people’s lives. Rising Ground has responded to this challenge, switching to virtual services without missing a beat. Multiple programs broadened their support to supply families with essential goods, such as food, diapers, personal products, and more. Families without a way to access the internet were given devices to receive online therapeutic supports. The organization hosted a successful virtual gift-card drive to ensure that every child and young person in a Rising Ground program had at least one holiday gift. And the Biondi Education Center at Rising Ground, which offers primary and secondary special education, instituted strict Covid-19 safety protocols so students could resume in-class learning last September. Biondi has not had to close school for even one day due to Covid-19.

Mutual of America's John R. Greed Is Named the 190th Anniversary Honoree
To help celebrate this rich history, Rising Ground has chosen John R. Greed, Chairman, President, and CEO of Mutual of America Financial Group, to be the 190th Anniversary honoree. Mutual of America has been a major supporter of Rising Ground’s mission, which is to help children, adults, and families create a positive path forward in their lives.

“I salute Rising Ground and its employees for its storied history and tireless commitment to improving the health and well-being of people in the New York City area by providing children, adults and families with the skills and resources to overcome various forms of adversity and find positive paths forward,” Mr. Greed said.

“The idea of actively promoting the welfare of others has always been close to our hearts at Mutual of America. We are proud to be part of an organization that was founded with the belief that every worker, including those who dedicate their lives to nonprofit social welfare organizations, deserves a financially secure future and dignified retirement. We also have been privileged to witness firsthand the life-changing work being done each day by organizations like Rising Ground. This has inspired us and influenced who we are as an organization and as individuals. Like Rising Ground, we are equally proud of our culture of caring, giving back, and making a positive, meaningful difference in our local communities,” he continued.

“With this shared purpose, Mutual of America is pleased to support Rising Ground’s year-long celebration of its anniversary, and I am grateful to accept its 190th Anniversary Honoree award,” Mr. Greed explained.

Rising Ground’s Shared History with Trinity Church

Part of Rising Ground’s legacy is its relationship with Trinity Church Wall Street, which provided space for the orphanage when it first opened. In honor of that relationship, Rising Ground is partnering with Trinity Church Wall Street to host the Rising Ground Lecture Series, which will look at New York’s history through the lens of human services. The first lecture, scheduled for April 27 at 6 PM will feature the historian Kenneth T. Jackson, PhD, Jacques Barzun Professor of History and the Social Sciences at Columbia University, who is a renowned expert on New York City history.

“Our anniversary provides us with an opportunity to offer New Yorkers a look at the history and evolution of human services, and the obligation we have as a society to continually improve the delivery of safety net services,” said Mr. Mucatel. “We want as many people as possible to share our vision of a future New York where every child has an equal opportunity to succeed; where vulnerable individuals and families have the resources and support they need; where people with disabilities can access opportunity and fully participate in their communities; and where all are supported as they navigate life’s challenges and positively direct their lives.”

For more information and to watch Rising Ground’s 190th Anniversary Celebration Kickoff, the public is invited to visit www.RisingGround.org/190.