Navigating the school cafeteria can be stressful. But for 16-year-old Natalie Hampton, who lives in Sherman Oaks and was verbally, physically and cyber bullied during middle school, lunch was one of the worst parts of the day. Being seen eating by herself didn’t help. “I felt vulnerable and worthless. I also think being excluded branded me as a target for bullying,” says Hampton. Her experience led her to create the empowering free app, “Sit With Us.”
Hampton switched schools in ninth grade and began making friends, then couldn’t help but invite kids eating lunch alone to join her at her table. Seeing the positive effects this had inspired her to invent the app, which helps kids find open lunch tables where they’ll be welcomed. “It’s all very private and discreet, and no one needs to know that you are using it,” she says. Hampton believes student-led anti-bullying initiatives are more effective than lunch monitors or written policies, and says studies have proven this to be true. “I believe every school has upstanders like me who want to take steps to make other kids feel included,” says Hampton.
“Sit With Us” users create a profile page, type in their school and school address, and find an open community under a “featured” tab. “Anyone who takes the Ambassador’s pledge agrees to post open lunches from time to time and make anyone who joins feel welcome,” says Hampton. “Ambassadors get a special star on their profile pages. Users can also coordinate lunches with friends and use a chat function.” The app is available in the Apple store, with an Android version coming soon.
Now Hampton can walk across her campus, see new people coming together and becoming friends and know that, thanks to “Sit With Us,” kids are making their schools more warm and inclusive.