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!