Bronx high school senior gives back to community by leading sex ed workshops

sex ed workshop
Richeiny Pimentel-Soto, a high school senior, leads a group of seventh graders in a game of anatomy Pictionary on Feb. 14, 2024.
Photo Emily Swanson

High school senior Richeiny Pimentel-Soto does not have a typical after-school job. Instead of flipping burgers or ringing up customers, she’s busy answering questions like “What’s a vulva?” “Can people choose their sexual orientation?” and “What if a menstrual cup leaks?”

Such is a typical workshop with seventh graders for Pimentel-Soto, a native of the Concourse neighborhood and Peer Facilitator with JAM (Just Ask Me), a program run by the nonprofit WHEDco (Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation). 

She has helped lead about 30 workshops since October — after going through the program as a middle-schooler herself.

“It’s fun to give back to my community the same as was given to me,” Pimentel-Soto told the Bronx Times during a visit to a Feb. 14 workshop on gender identity and sexual orientation.

JAM was started in 2009 by a group of teen girls from the Bronx who were concerned about teen pregnancy and the lack of sex education in their schools. After hearing from their schools that the state had no set curriculum, they took matters into their own hands. Peer Facilitators with JAM are still leading workshops on gender and sexuality, healthy relationships, contraception, STIs, pregnancy and anatomy.

Even in a politically liberal state, the lack of comprehensive sex ed in New York persists. Surveys by Planned Parenthood show that 80% of parents want their kids to participate in sex education; however, New York does not mandate such classes — and only three states do.

After each workshop, students submit questions to the Anonymous Questions box to be discussed at the following session. Photo Emily Swanson

Now is an especially important time for people of all ages to be informed, according to the city Department of Health, which recently reported increases in detection of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from 2021 to 2022. 

As more testing re-opened following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department says an increased detection of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia came with it. Hunts Point, Mott Haven, Crotona and Tremont were identified as neighborhoods with especially high STI rates in 2022. 

“The data underscore the importance of sexual health support and services,” Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement. “As more people return to care, our detection improves. Yet we also have so much work to promote equitable access to care and delivery of services.”

Pimentel-Soto said she is happy to play her part in making sure kids like her have access to accurate information and resources — all at this critical time before they enter high school, where the pressures to become sexually active are even greater. 

Pimentel-Soto, who wants to be a school social worker, has already been accepted to four local colleges — Baruch, Manhattan College, the College of Staten Island and the University of Mount Saint Vincent. 

Her experience as a peer facilitator will help carry her into her future career.

“I think this is a good start,” Pimentel-Soto said — and she gets plenty of practice with building relationships with young people while giving them the occasional dose of “tough love.”

Nicole Jennings, coordinator and founder of JAM, said she is on the lookout every year for students like Pimentel-Soto, who demonstrate good leadership and the ability to discuss sensitive issues in a mature way. 

But the students can surprise her — sometimes, “the kids who you’d never think would want to stand up and teach end up being great.” 

JAM will soon expand to Highbridge Green School and the South Bronx Early College Academy Charter School. Jennings said the programming adapts to current issues, now touching on issues with marijuana and alcohol in conjunction with sexual health. 

“We try to supplement what we think the schools aren’t teaching,” Jennings said. 

While Pimentel-Soto and her colleagues have their hands full wrangling some rowdy kids in the gender and sexuality workshop — all while competing with construction drilling right outside the window — it appeared the message got through. 

When it comes to how people express their gender, one student summed it up.

“The only person who can choose is themselves,” he said.  

Reach Emily Swanson at or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes