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Leake & Watts Rebrands… After 187 Years!

‘Rising Ground’ More Accurately Reflects the Mission and Broad Array of Services of One of New York City’s Largest and Oldest Human Services Agencies

On the steps of City Hall in lower Manhattan, Alan Mucatel, executive director of what was formerly known as Leake & Watts, one of New York City’s oldest and largest human services agencies, announced that the organization has changed its name to Rising Ground. The new name reflects the agency’s ability to provide a comprehensive foundation of support to New York’s children, adults, and families in need so they can rise above adversity and thrive, he said.

Mr. Mucatel was joined at the ceremony by Rising Ground Board Chair José Jara, and staff and youth from the Biondi Elementary School, an accredited special education school, and one of Rising Ground’s many supportive programs.

“For nearly two centuries, Leake & Watts has been at the forefront of providing services that support children, adults, and families in need. Over time, as community needs have changed, so have our services and our approach to meeting those needs,” Mr. Mucatel explained. “Without letting go of our rich and inspiring history, our new name connects to and clearly communicates the underlying positive themes inherent in our work. We offer a solid foundation of support, providing people with the resources, hope, and opportunity to move ahead and reach their goals.”

Rising Ground supports more than 12,000 of Greater New York area’s neediest children and adults each year through special education, early childhood programs, foster care and adoption programs, family mental health services, services for children and adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities, and juvenile justice services, among other areas of support. The agency operates 47 programs at 25 different sites and employs a workforce of 1,400 people, making it one of the city’s largest human services agencies.

Renaming and rebranding the agency comes after a period of rapid growth. Rising Ground’s operation budget nearly doubled in size from $56 million in 2009 to more than $100 million in 2018, as the number of people in its programs have jumped from 5,000 to more than 12,000 over the same period. The organization has tripled the amount of private charitable support it receives. It is also the Gold Winner of the prestigious Gold Nonprofit Excellence Award for Overall Management Excellence from the New York Community Trust, and was a finalist for the Brooke W. Mahoney Award for Outstanding Board leadership.

Mr. Mucatel explained, “We rapidly expanded our services so we could offer multifaceted support to address the complex challenges of people in need in New York City. We now have a name that better communicates what we do, and the broad scope of our services.”

Until today, the agency carried the eponymous name of its founders, John George Leake, a New York lawyer, and John Watts, Jr., a Westchester County judge and former congressman. What began in 1831 as the Leake and Watts Orphan House sited at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, grew into a large agency with operations in The Bronx, Westchester, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. Although not religiously affiliated, the legacy of the agency’s initial relationship with Trinity Church persists to this day with a member of the church’s community sitting on the not-for-profit’s Board of Directors.

Winning a Rare Grant for Rebranding

The agency was awarded a $250,000 Community Resiliency Fund grant in 2015 to rebrand the organization—a rare accomplishment, since most grants are earmarked for programs. But the agency made a strong case that it needed a new brand to reach more people and attract new donors. As part of the rebranding, the agency developed new mission and vision statements, a new visual identity, and redesigned its website. Red Rooster Group, a branding agency focusing on working with nonprofit organizations, managed the three-year renaming and rebranding process.

“Our prior name did not convey the nature of our work, and lacked immediate recognition within the communities we support,” explained Meredith Barber, senior director of institutional advancement at Rising Ground. “We wanted our neighbors to quickly connect our name to our work and mission, and find us easily when they sought support. Rising Ground does just that.”

Board Chair José Jara also sees the name as an inspiration. “The Rising Ground name will help more people understand the scale and scope of what we do, as it represents advancement, not only for the people we support, but for our organization as well. We keep reaching higher, and we keep looking for more opportunities to serve. The name captures the essence of what we believe, what we do, and what we accomplish.”