About a year ago, I had the opportunity to meet Natalie Hampton at the Youth Assembly at the United Nations in New York City. It was the first night of the conference, and we started discussing where we were from, what we're passionate about, what brought us to the conference, and our future plans. After exchanging a few words, it was clear Natalie was a truly exceptional person. However, not until the last day of the conference did I learn everything Natalie had accomplished. She was called onto the United Nations General Assembly stage to accept the Outstanding Youth Delegate Award, and shared her story.
In middle school, Natalie was severely bullied. After her terrible experience with girls at her school, she changed schools and made a new group of friends. At her new school, Natalie began to invite others to their lunch table to prevent them from feeling like she had at her previous school . She was suddenly surrounded by kind individuals and felt safe, and could be the same for others. Natalie saw the impact she had when inviting others to sit at their table. Taking this act of kindness forward, at just sixteen, she created her award winning app Sit With Us. Sit With Us is a free lunch planning tool for kids in middle school and high school. On the app, kids can coordinate with their fellow classmates to ensure they have a seat at a lunch table - leaving no one behind. Today, the app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. Sit With Us is used in seven countries worldwide.
Natalie's extraordinary work has been recognized by the Huffington Post, NPR, Apple Co. (Under "100 Apps We Love"), Harvard University, Psychology Today, and CBS News. Last year, Natalie gave a Ted Talk for Ted x Teen "All It Takes Is One". Natalie is currently a freshman at Stanford University studying Psychology and Medicine.
In my interview with Natalie, we discuss her journey, passions, and future goals.
After being heavily bullied in school, how did you pick yourself back up?
It took lots of time and space away from my previous school to fully recover. I was diagnosed with severe PTSD and still manage the effects of that today, but in the first few months, it was awful. The biggest outlet I found was art. By painting and writing, I could express all the emotions I was feeling in a positive way, so I began to pour myself into it. However, it took years of slow recovery before I could find myself again.
What advice would you give others who are currently being bullied?
REACH. OUT. My situation didn’t begin to improve until I started speaking up and telling people about what was going on. That person could be anyone from your parents to a therapist or a trusted teacher/family member. My best advice is to involve an adult who can help you find resources or just be there to listen so you aren’t dealing with it by yourself.
At the mere age of 16-years-old, were you nervous starting Sit With Us? And were there any obstacles you faced because of your age?
It was incredibly nerve-wracking in the beginning because there were so many obstacles in my way. I didn’t know if I was able to create an app in the first place and even if I did manage to pull it off, would it be successful? Would it even have an impact? Would anyone care? Even with all the doubt, I decided to move forward and begin the process anyways because of how personal the issue was to me. I have also faced many obstacles because of my age. Often, people won’t take me seriously because they think I am not old enough to know how to operate my own organization and I have faced discrimination because of this. However, on the flip side, I have also received an overwhelming amount of support and recognition because of my age. In my school workshops, I always stress how important it is to know that you can make a difference at any age, and that it is never too early to start working on a project you are passionate about.
What were the procedures you took when it came to building your organization and app Sit With Us?
Sit With Us started with a single sketch in a notebook and over months and months of planning, writing, coding, and beta testing, it finally became a reality. The hardest part was definitely the phase of beta testing because it felt like we were never going to eradicate all the bugs and typos we started out with. We probably went through over 100 versions. From there, we applied for 501(c)(3) status to build the organization behind the app. After we received our non-profit status, the app and organization have been almost completely self-maintained, aside from updates to fit the latest IOS platform.
What issues are you passionate about?
Aside from anti-bullying, I am extremely passionate about voter registration and gun reform. I got the opportunity to join the March for Our Lives Road to Change tour this past summer and learned so much from the incredible experience.
Who are some of your idols?
I grew up reading Harry Potter obsessively and I feel as though the creativity and unbridled imagination in those books helped create the person I am today. J.K. Rowling has and always will be my idol for all she has taught me.
Looking forward, what are some things you are hoping to achieve in your personal life, school, and/or work?
For work, I hope to expand Sit With Us as far as I can to more countries and more languages so that any kid in the world who needs it has access to the tool. For school, I am excited (and very nervous) about starting college and hope everything goes well!
To learn more about Natalie and her work you can follow the links below:
Sit With Us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sitwithus.io
Sit With Us on Twitter: @nobodyeatsalone
Sit With Us on Instagram: @sit.with.us
Personal Instagram: @natalie_evelyn
My Two-Thousand Eighteen Plans
It's 2018! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and happy New Year.
After last summer, I became crazy busy with school work, college applications, and modeling jobs which kept me from creating new blog posts. At the end of December, I had a journal filled with exciting ideas which never were completed. But, it's not 2017 anymore and because I have submitted all of my college applications I am a very happy girl! I will be dedicating much more time to the blog this year and I have some exciting posts lined up.
Wrapping up 2017 - it was an incredible year. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and in the process, grew as a person. I met amazing people, traveled to breathtaking places, and, along the way, made some extraordinary memories.
For 2018, I have some really exciting plans. I have set a lot of goals for myself. Some of my 2018 goals are:
- Be present.
- Become fluent in the French language.
- Post more on the blog.
- Talk less, listen more.
- Create more content.
- Be appreciative and grateful.
- Use my new film camera (thanks mom<3).
At the beginning of this year, I decided to take a week and a half off of social media. I like taking time off of social media because it allows me to take a break from the digital world and truly focus on being present.
I have been home for over six months now (which is the longest continuous period I've been in North Carolina for the past 5 years). For the rest of this winter and spring, I plan to stay at home. It has been really nice to spend time at home and enjoy time with my family. I truly believe it's important to take a step back from the bustle in life and enjoy the little things.
For this summer, I have planned some really exciting trips. I am so excited to create some beautiful content and share it here.
At the moment, I'm anxious to see where I will attend college. It's strange not knowing where I will be living for the second half of this year. I have been trying my best to rest my worries, focus on what is at hand, and think about college choices when they come.
I have a really good feeling about 2018. I hope you all have a wonderful year filled with new experiences, love, lessons, and completed dreams and goals.
P.S. I added an anonymous suggestion box below. I would love to know what you guys want to see more on the blog. X
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Empowered Women, Empower Women
Artwork by Justina Blakeney
There is a quote by Nikita Gill that has resonated with me lately: "If all girls were taught how to love each other fiercely instead of how to compete with each other and hate their own bodies, what a different and beautiful world we would live in". When I first read this verse I thought “Wow, how true!”
Growing up in the modeling industry, I constantly compared myself to other girls. I thought I needed to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and be a certain way in order to be accepted. Nevertheless, it was a long journey for me to understand that there never was, and there has never been, a competition. I have come to learn that it doesn't matter if someone is smarter, skinnier, curvier or taller than you because they aren't you.
We shouldn't bring others down, instead we should love and accept ourselves and in return love and accept others. You never know what someone could be battling in their personal life.
Think about the things we could achieve if we put everything aside to support one another. One woman’s success has the power to inspire other women. We should applaud each other for accomplishments instead of finding success threatening. We should embrace natural beauty, instead of criticizing other women’s and our own bodies.
Personally, I don’t know where I would be without the amazing women in my life. My mother, sister and friends are the ones who help me persevere.
This world is filled with so many incredible human beings. Be kind to others and in return you will receive kindness and love. We truly are stronger together.
Once you master this concept, the world will be yours.
For those of you who may not know, this past month I lived in Saint Lucia volunteering at a children's home in the Eastern Caribbean. This home shelters children who have been neglected and/or abused, ranging from the ages of 1-16 years.
At the beginning of my trip I was scared I wasn't going to be able to connect with the children on a personal level, and let me just say I was completely wrong. I've learned that children who have been neglected appreciate presence and the art of "giving of their time".
On the first day of working with the children we made it clear that before every day we would start our mornings with a journal prompt. We gifted them their own journals. I lead the journal activities this past month. Before taking on this task, I met with a certified therapist to help create lesson plans and journal prompts that would specifically cater to the children. The first week, we started off with a stencil figure of a body. And each child had the opportunity to draw themselves, point out different parts of their body that they liked, and include an explanation for each part. For example, an eight-year-old boy at the home put "I like my eyes because they allow me to see pretty things". Another child put "I like my heart because it allows me to love". I was so impressed by the children's interest in this activity. The other two volunteers and I also carried out activities that included outdoor games and team building activities.
When working with children in development, it's important to allow the child to acknowledge their feelings and reflect on them. This was my first time working with children who have been through trauma. So I was quite intimidated going into the experience. I didn't know if the children would be receptive to my activities or even have a general interest in us being there. But I quickly learned that the children each had an immense sense of hope, joy, and love inside them. Despite the terrible things they have individually been through they still carry a smile on their faces. They loved seeing us every day and that that alone gave me a new sense of hope.
Personally, I am a strong believer that we can all learn something from someone no matter their age. And these children taught me what the epitome of hope means.
I am writing this to let anyone know that no matter how hard the past may have been for you, you can overcome this. Things can get better as long as you open yourself up to new opportunities and happiness.
One of the hardest things I struggled with throughout this experience was trying to understand how such terrible circumstances could happen to such amazing children. But I quickly reminded myself that I may never fully understand, but there are far better things ahead for them all.
I have a new respect for child advocacy homes. I highly recommend volunteering at one in your own communities. The important thing to remember is; you don't have to travel across the world to do service work you can find a home in your own community.
I will forever carry on the lessons these children have taught me.
Do you have any of those one of a kind individuals you feel so fortunate to have met in your life? Well, for me, that person is Linda Saturno. Linda is a social worker for Peace Corps who has devoted her life to help those in need. Linda is a selfless, caring and remarkable woman. I had the privilege of meeting Linda last spring as she was embarking on her next project. Linda is working to improve the child protection system in Saint Lucia. Her dedication to serving others inspires me. Through this interview, I hope you can learn about the incredible work that Linda does for others.
Tell me about your job with the Peace Corps?
I am currently working as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Social Work Specialist, assigned to the Government of Saint Lucia to assist in improving the child protection system. The needs are tremendous. I am presently working on multiple projects. I am facilitating the review and documentation of case management protocols and procedures. This will lead to a wide variety of process improvement initiatives, including review of protocols with the police, hospital, courts and probation. I am also facilitating a high level working group to write policy on how to care for and manage babies born to incarcerated women. In addition, I am leading training for parents who have children within the child protection system; conducting community trainings on how to prevent child sexual abuse; and coaching human services managers on performance related issues.
What did you do at UNICEF?
My first assignment as UNICEF child protection consultant was to conduct an analysis on child labor in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan and to develop a strategy to progressively eliminate it. Most of the elements of the strategy were put in place and now no child under the age of 16 is forced to work in the cotton fields. I then was hired as the Social Policy and Economic Specialist for UNICEF in Uzbekistan where I worked with government officials to analyze and address the socially and economically driven problems associated with child poverty. In addition, I worked to increase the child rights monitoring and planning capacities of non-profit organizations. I also had the opportunity to serve as the Interim Head of Office for UNICEF in Sukhumi, Abkhazia (formerly part of the Republic of Georgia).
How did you get started working in the humanitarian field?
I have been volunteering for humanitarian causes since I was twelve years old. I’ve always felt that calling. But soon after the loss of my only child in a car accident in 2006, I felt an immensely strong pull to help children who were in greatest need. I accepted that the work could take me anywhere in the world, and although that has been scary at times, I’ve always had faith that I would be exactly where I needed to be. So one thing led to another and I found myself working as a child protection consultant for UNICEF in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Where was your favorite place to travel for your job?
Favorite places for me don’t always entail excitement and glamour. Most often, I think of a place as “favorite” if it made me think and impacted me in some profound way. Most of the places I would call favorite have not been on the beaten path. I very much appreciated my walks down the side streets of Sarajevo, Bosnia. I imagined what it must have been like to live through the Bosnian war. Other favorite places I visited include the ancient cave where Saint Simon lived in the Caucus Mountains near Abkhazia; the 1,000 year old cliff-side Sumela monastery near Trabzon, Turkey; and a remote, undisturbed beach in Thailand where I watched wild elephants traverse the hillside.
If you have a favorite quote, what is it?
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is your favorite book?
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Photographs from Linda's travels across the world...
Below I have listed a few influential women who have changed history and the world. This list includes scientists, poets, activists, politicians, and humanitarians. All of these women have broken boundaries and redefined history. They are passionate, intelligent and leading ladies. These are well known women, but I believe every day women are becoming their own leading ladies in their everyday lives.
Heres to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.
"What you do makes a difference. And you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." - Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace. Jane has dedicated her life to studying animals and working with animal welfare issues. She is well known for her 55-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania. Jane closely observed things that past scientist overlooked. She gave the chimpanzees names, instead of numbering them as other scientists tended to do. She is recognized for her ground breaking discoveries on the behaviors of chimpanzees. She found that humans have a lot more in common with chimpanzees than we thought. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots and Shoots program.
"My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness."
- Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was a well-known American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She was a highly respected spokeswoman for women and the African American community. Maya wrote many books, one of her well-known books is “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings”.