Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kids! Spotlight Interview with Natalie Hampton

By Victoria Feng, Assistant Editor and AKOM Editor

 

Natalie Hampton is the creator of the app Sit with Us, which has been featured on the iOS app store. When she was bullied a few years ago, Natalie felt eating lunch alone was one of the worst parts of the school day. Sit with Us promotes inclusivity within a school and helps everyone have a seat at lunch and make new friends.

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to create Sit with Us?

Natalie Hampton (NH): In seventh and eighth grade, I was verbally bullied on almost a daily basis, and then I was physically bullied by several different girls. Outside of school hours, I was cyberbullied through texts and social media. One of the worst parts about my middle school experience was eating lunch alone every day and then having people see me eat lunch alone. I felt vulnerable and worthless.

I then switched schools for ninth grade and quickly made friends because my new school is a much nicer community. Whenever I saw someone eating alone, I would ask that person to join our table. Over time, those people became a central part of my friend group and were then invited to birthday parties. I know that being included has made a difference in their lives. It was this experience that inspired me to create Sit with Us.

AK: After being bullied in middle school, what would you tell kids who are going through bullying, too?

NH: I think it’s important to find adults you trust. For me, at my previous school, that was my visual arts teacher. She sympathized with my situation and allowed me to spend time in her art lab whenever I wanted, and it was a safe space for me. I also told my parents everything that was happening, and they did as much as they could to help me—eventually, that meant helping me find a new school.

If I had just one person who was on my side at that school, then I probably would have been okay, which is why I stress the use of Sit with Us. For schools that do not allow cell phone use, we recommend a “low-tech” version: The school could dedicate a prominent bulletin board to Sit with Us, and ambassadors could post notices of open lunches there. Then people could check the board for open invites and find a table to join. I also recommend trying to seek out other kids with similar interests. For me, that was getting involved with the theater community. Theater kids are usually fun, quirky, and very accepting, so we have become like a family.

AK: Why did you choose to try to resolve bullying through an app?

NH: The app makes the whole process discreet and private. If you are looking for a table to join, all you have to do is look under “featured lunches” and find a table where you know you will have an open invitation.

My experience was that if I asked to join a lunch, people would say no. Or if I sent the request by text, I was given wrong information as to where they would be, and then they would laugh about me behind my back. I also think that a table that is designated for people who have no place to go would be called the “losers’ table.” Sit with Us calls upon other kids who, like me, want to take an active role in making their school more kind and inclusive.

AK: Can you describe the features Sit with Us has?

NH: After you download the app, you create a personal profile that states where you go to school. You add a profile pic and can state your interests. If you take the Ambassador’s pledge to post open lunches from time to time, then your profile page gets a star on it. You can chat with friends or within lunch groups and send pictures. You can also host an open lunch or coordinate lunches with friends. Those are the current basic features, but we will be adding some refinements soon.

AK: What has been the most challenging part of your journey, and how have you overcome it?

NH: I made the app for iOS because I thought it would be a small pet project rolled out at a couple of schools, and most people I know have iPhones; however, when the app went viral and was being downloaded in seven countries worldwide, I received a large outcry from the Android users. I was open about this issue but had not really asked for money when two corporations instantly offered me money to pay for Android coding. We are now going forward with that phase, so we can reach more people.

AK: What are your goals for the future, both professionally and personally?

NH: I want to continue to work on Sit with Us, make app refinements, and create localized versions that will appeal to people in many different countries. However, my main goal is to go to medical school eventually because I love science and I want to go into a profession where I can help people. I love working with children, so I am thinking about becoming a pediatrician.

AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?

NH: Look at me—I am just a 16-year-old kid, and my pie-in-the-sky idea took off and appears to be helping people on a global scale. When I told my parents my idea, I never expected any of this in my wildest dreams. You need to look at the problems around you and try to come up with a solution to tackle it to make the world a better place. That could even be something as seemingly small as lunch or simply organizing a trash clean-up at your local park. By taking action, you can inspire others to do the same. When you put kindness out in the world, it comes back to you.

AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?

NH: I believe that every school has kids like me who want to do something to make their community warmer and more inclusive. I also believe that student-led initiatives are far more effective than those led by adults. Even without using the app, we can all adopt a “sit with us” attitude and invite anyone sitting alone to join us. You never know—your new best friend might be at the next table over.

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