History

A Proud History of Service

For more than 185 years, Rising Ground (founded as the Leake and Watts Orphan House) has been helping people rise above adversity. Over the decades, we have expanded our services to address emerging needs and help the most vulnerable among us, and in the process, have become an integral part of communities throughout New York City and Westchester County.

1831

Moved by the rise in urban poverty and the reduction of public welfare aid in the 1820s, the Leake and Watts Orphan House was founded by Westchester County Judge and former Congressman John Watts, Jr., with the bequest of his friend John George Leake, a wealthy New York lawyer who passed away without any heirs. At the forefront of the social responsibility movement— the Orphan House was one of the first private charitable institutions in the country dedicated to children in need.

1843

Leake and Watts Orphan House moved to the current site of Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 112th Street and Amsterdam.
Orphan House Facade
1850 Girls

1850

Leake and Watts Orphan House opens its doors to girls.

1890

The Home is moved outside the city to the 40-acre farm on the Hudson River in Yonkers. The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Old Yonkers Campus

1890

Student Band
Girls Group
The Leake & Watts Orphan House sponsors a uniformed band. Girls and young women gather to enjoy the grounds in Yonkers early in the century.
Girls On Line

1921

The “cottage system” is implemented on our Yonkers campus. First implemented for girls, the system featured six cottages with cottage parents, housing 10 to 30 girls each.

1937

A Social Services Department with trained social work staff is established.
Adult and Kid at Yonkers Campus
1940s Family

1944

We established our Foster Home Department in order to find homes for children in the community.

1947

We merged with the Orphan Home and Asylum of the Episcopal Church and the Sevilla-Hopewell Society of Brooklyn.
Retro Kids
Family

1979

We established the East Bronx Family Service Center to support families in need.
Red Ribbon

1985

We became the first social service agency in the nation to support children with HIV/AIDS.

1987

We established five early childhood programs to serve low-income families and expanded our group home services to teenage mothers and their children.
Early Childhood Centers

1996

We expanded programming to include juvenile justice services, one of the first human services organizations in the nation to do so.

1997

We opened the Marion and George Ames Early Childhood Center and the Biondi and Middle High School in Yonkers.
Ames Early Childhod Learning Center
Biondi Middle and High School

2000

We opened the Biondi Elementary School.
Biondi Elementary School
Medicaid Service Coordination

2004

We expanded our services to include supports for children and adults with intellectual / developmental disabilities.

2007

We opened our first group home in the Bronx for young adults with developmental disabilities.
Disabilities
Residential Treatment Center

2009

Our Residential Treatment Center shifted from serving youth in foster care to a specialized program for youth with a variety of mental health challenges, some of whom are in foster care.

2010

We opened the Children’s Learning Center in Manhattan specifically serving preschoolers with autism.
Hand Prints
Graduation

2011

We celebrated our 180th Anniversary.

2014

We were honored as the Gold Winner of the New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards.
NYCT Award

2018

Leake & Watts changes its name to Rising Ground as the next evolution in our history. With almost two centuries of service behind us, our expanded services, extended communities, and broader mission is now supported by a name that better communicates our essence.

Today

Rising Ground supports more than 12,000 children, adults, and families in need each year and is continuing to evolve its services to meet the changing needs of New Yorkers.

CHILDREN & FAMILY SERVICES

Strengthening families and individuals in need.

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EDUCATION & EARLY CHILDHOOD SERVICES

Giving kids a strong start and supporting special needs.

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INTELLECTUAL / DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES SERVICES

Providing housing and supportive services.

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HEALTH & WELLNESS

Fostering physical and mental well-being.

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