A Proud History of Service

For 192 years, Rising Ground (founded in 1831 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.

John Watts


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.


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


Leake and Watts Orphan House opens its doors to girls.


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


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


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.


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

1940s Family


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


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



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

Red Ribbon


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


Twelve women placed at the Bedford Hills Women’s Prison testify to their histories of battering and its relationship to their criminal charges. This historic trial creates a call to action that leads to the founding of STEPS to End Violence, which then grows from a two-person court advocacy project into a holistic program of services for victims of gender-based and intimate partner violence with a focus on prevention, intervention, and policy advocacy.


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

Empower Youth


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


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


We opened the Biondi Elementary School.
Biondi Elementary School

Medicaid Service Coordination


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


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

Residential Treatment Center


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.


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



We celebrated our 180th Anniversary.


We were honored as the Gold Winner of the New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards.
We open our Passage of Hope program for unaccompanied minors primarily from Latin America.
NYCT Award

Rising Ground Logo


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. We also join forces with Edwin Gould Services for Children and Families, bringing together two longstanding traditions of supporting New York City children, adults, and families in need. The consolidation strengthens and broadens the supports we provide to children, adults, and family members throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as Westchester County.


Rising Ground supports more than 25,000 children, adults, and families in need each year and is continuing to evolve its services to meet the changing needs of New Yorkers.
For the first time since 1891, the organization is once again officially New York City-based, reflecting the community we support. Our headquarters are now based in Downtown Brooklyn.
We celebrated our 190th Anniversary.
Rising Ground sells most of its 32-acre Yonkers campus after 130 years, relocating its programs to sites throughout New York City, while maintaining a Yonkers presence.
The number of programs offered by Rising Ground dramatically expands to 101 across 138 sites, amplifying our ability to help more New Yorkers citywide. The expansion includes nearly doubling our Passage of Hope program for unaccompanied youth, acquisition of residences for homeless youth, and the introduction of a Parent Advocate Initiative, and a Family Enrichment Center. In addition, through the acquisition of services from Sheltering Arms, this expansion includes drop-in centers for homeless and runaway youth, community mental health services, reception centers for youth entering foster care, as well as growth in other services.
Rising Ground will open new administrative offices in Midtown Manhattan with program hubs in the Bronx, Queens, Northern Manhattan, and Brooklyn.
Children Graduation