The Power of Peer Education

Since 1996, the National Institute’s TORCH program has provided knowledge and empowerment opportunities for young people in New York City to make informed choices in their lives; helped create a new generation of the pro-choice movement by fostering awareness and activism; offered accurate information to young people about adolescent health issues, including abortion, sexuality, and reproductive rights; and encouraged young people to build self-esteem through community advocacy and leadership training.


TORCH staff members are dedicated to creating a space where the teens are free to express themselves and address issues pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and other social justice issues relevant to their lives. Coming from differing backgrounds, their stories tell a unique tale and their experiences connect to make a program that is educational and uplifting.

Melissa Toala, Manager of Youth Initiatives, is an unapologetic Queer Latina from the Bronx. A self-identified hood feminist, she is the single mother of two children and has been working in the field of youth development and sexuality education for over 10 years. Her work is committed to Sexual Reproductive Justice and the advancement of Black, Brown and Indigenous lives as well other historically marginalized people and experiences through education and organizing. She is currently an MSW candidate at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, with a method focus in Community Organizing, Planning and Development and a specialization in Youth and Families. She can be reached at mtoala@nirhealth.org.

Delaine Andrea Powerful, Youth Initiatives Coordinator, is a Black queer femme whose multiplicity of identity guides and shapes her/their politics and values. She/they hold(s) multiple roles and navigates through various spaces doing justice and anti-oppression work as an organizer, consultant, trainer and educator. She/they currently organizes with Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) and Liberate, Eradicate, Activate to Dismantle (LEAD), and sits on a number of coalitions, working groups and taskforces looking to change policies and institutional requirements and dismantle oppressive structures. After receiving her Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins, Delaine has returned to NIRH to further incorporate reproductive justice and anti-oppressive politics into TORCH’s and the larger organization’s programming. Delaine can be reached at dpowerful@nirhealth.org.

Stephanie Zapata, Youth Education Associate, comes to TORCH with 4 years of experience in community organizing, youth work, sex education and LGBTQ advocacy. Stephanie has worked with young people of color throughout her career. She held a position on Governor Cuomo’s New York City HIV Prevention Planning Group, tasked with ending AIDS by 2020. Through direct action and mobilizing in communities of need, Stephanie received a Certification of Merit from Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz Junior, for her work with the LGBTQ community. Stephanie can be reached at SZapata@NIRHealth.org.