From Lonely Lunches to Anti-Bullying App, How One Teen Helps Others Create Kindness in Schools
In 7th and 8th grade, Natalie Hampton faced a terrible bullying experience. Every day, she ate lunch by herself and dealt with the pain and isolation that comes from being the outsider. She decided she wanted to give bullied kids an ally – not just in her Sherman Oakes, California, school, but in schools around the country.
That’s how she came up with the idea to create an app called Sit With Us, which allows students to identify themselves as “ambassadors” and create open lunch tables. Students who face bullying and eating lunch alone can check the app to find an open lunch table, walk over and sit down, no questions asked.
Though she didn’t have much coding experience, Natalie recognized that her fellow classmates use their phone for everything. She teamed up with a coder to create the app and help her flesh out her ideas.
“The app creates a micro-community within your school and it’s your peers and your classmates that are standing up and taking leadership roles to make their school a kinder place,” Natalie said. “Instead of bringing someone from the outside in and setting up an assembly to say ‘don’t bully,’ it’s your own classmates that are taking on that role. That’s why it has a big impact on making a school community more inclusive.”
“I created an app for two reasons. The first is accessibility – more people have access to a phone than a bathroom, putting it through the phone is a way to reach a large amount of people in a short amount of time,” said Natalie. “The second reason is that it’s very discrete. You don’t have to wander around looking for people or go up to other tables, you do it all through the phone and then go sit down at the table. It’s not embarrassing for the user at all.”
The app launched in September 2016 and already has more than 100,000 users in seven different countries.
“I thought this would be a small pet project for a couple schools in the L.A. area,” said Natalie. “The growth of the app showed me that bullying is such a huge problem, but it also shows me there are kids who are upstanders in every school.”
Natalie says she has always been an activist – something her parents instilled in her – but it was really her personal experience that motivated her to get involved in anti-bullying issues. Now a junior in high school, she encourages other young people to get involved, especially if they see a need and they don’t see it being addressed.
“I thought it was impossible, but a year later, it’s a reality,” Natalie said. “I’ve just been paired with an amazing mentor to grow and expand. Our goal is to reach as many kids as possible.”