Natalie Hampton Created an App So Kids Don't Have to Sit Alone at the Lunch Table
Nothing feels worse than having to sit alone while you're downing mystery meat and mashed potatoes during lunch hour, and it’s a feeling that Natalie Hampton is all too familiar with. A few years ago, the California teen spent every single day alone in the cafeteria, after she was ostracized and bullied by her classmates. “You are searching for a place to eat, but you know that if you sit by yourself, there'll be so much embarrassment that comes with it because people will know and they'll see you as the girl who has nowhere to sit,” she remembers about her experience.
But Natalie didn’t let this terrible situation define her. She eventually transferred schools, got involved with anti-bullying orgs, and recently launched her very own app. Aptly titled Sit With Us, this (free!) social network helps connect students with ambassadors who post open lunch spots. Not only will kids have a place to eat, but they’ll also have a chance to make new friends in the process. After all, no one deserves to eat lunch in a bathroom stall, Mean Girls-style. We talked to Natalie about her genius idea, social media, and feeling alone below.
I launched my app a few months ago. At first, I thought it would just be something that was implemented at my school, but it’s reached nationwide—even international!—news. I’m really happy that it’s gone so far, because I want to reach as many kids as possible.
I came up with the idea after I left my old school [due to bullying]. I started working with underprivileged kids and kids who have been bullied, and then I realized the best way I could help people on a really large scale is with an app. The thing about cliques and bullying is that they really are timeless. They’re not unique just to this generation or just to me; they’ve been happening everywhere for so long.
But social media definitely plays a role in bullying. I’ve been cyber bullied before, so I unfortunately know what it’s like. I know how horrible it can be. I wanted to combat that by making something that’s positive and also part of social media. I think awareness is the most important thing, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my app. It’s not just about sitting with other people. It’s about raising awareness about bullying: showing people just how common it is, and how many kids it affects. If people are more aware of what they’re doing, then they’re hopefully going to be less likely to act out on other forms of social media.
Here’s my advice for any girls that are dealing with something similar: Know that it’s not about you. It’s not something that you’re doing wrong. It’s an issue everywhere. I felt very alone when I was going through this, and I want people to know that they’re not alone.
My goal is to help people. I want it to make a difference in kids’ lives, and as many kids I can reach, the better. It’s been catching on like crazy so far, but pretty soon I’m going to start traveling and start speaking to schools.
While other organizations are doing great work, they usually are dealing with the aftermath—what to do after someone has been bullied. And that's important. But I’m trying to discourage bullying from happening in the first place by making schools more inclusive. By having a preventative measure in the lunchroom, there’s less of a chance for bullying to even begin. - as told to Liza Darwin
Download Sit With Us and tell your friends/teachers/everyone who'll listen about it. The app won't make school cafeteria lunch taste any better, but it'll improve pretty much everything else.